Olympic blues with some red and white
August 16, 2004
Sunday was a bizarre day in Athens as the international sports world was turned on its head. The U.S. lost in men’s basketball for the first time in 16 years, while Iraq’s men’s soccer team clinched a trip to the medal round with a win over Costa Rica.
There’s an obvious connection between those two events and it’s bigger than the fact that our country is busy occupying their country. For Americans who watched the coverage of the games, it was a startling wake-up call that the rest of the world, or at least the fans in Athens, really hate us.
From the tipoff of the game against Puerto Rico the crowd was fervently against the Americans, cheering the Puerto Ricans with every basket and celebrating their colossal upset with anti-USA chants. There appeared to be about three actual Puerto Ricans in the stands, meaning everyone else was just rooting against us.
The U.S. players shot like they had their eyes closed for the entire game. Richard Jefferson, one of the team’s “best” outside shooters, threw up an airball from the international 3-point line, which is more than 3 feet closer to the basket than the NBA line. Maybe he was weighed down by the enormous contract he just signed with the New Jersey Nets. Nothing like committing $78 million to a guy just to watch him jack up worse shots than Yinka Dare. By the end of the game the Puerto Ricans were playing 10 feet off of Jefferson, just daring him to shoot.
Let’s hope the Olympic Committee ordered reinforced backboards, because the American shooters are shakier than Muhammad Ali in an earthquake. With the international rules allowing a collapsing zone defense, teams can put all five players inside the key and let the U.S. team bang shots off the rim for 40 minutes.
Oh, and our best player wasn’t even born on U.S. soil. Tim Duncan hails from the Virgin Islands and was adopted onto the team when the powers that be realized we haven’t produced a legitimate center since Shaq. We were told the rest of the world was catching up in hoops, but we didn’t know our engine was going to explode on the first lap.
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Puerto Rico recently voted against the chance to become the 51st state, apparently because we would just drag down their basketball program. An island with the approximate population of South Carolina is now officially capable of fielding a basketball team better than ours. We should apologize for doing bomb tests on their land before they decide they want to take over the NBA.
What’s next, a nation we’re still bombing dominating an international soccer tournament for which we failed to even qualify? Oh, wait …
After shocking co-favorite Portugal in the first round, Iraq used a potent counterattack to beat Costa Rica, 2-0. While the crowd was sparse, both Iraq goals were celebrated with fans running across the field in jubilation.
This is what it has come to. Our government is so hated that we’ve made heroes out of one of the world’s least-favored nations. Shock and awe, indeed.
The win guaranteed Iraq a trip to the medal phase of the tournament, easily the biggest accomplishment in the undistinguished soccer history of the nation.
Actually, the Iraqis don’t need to win another game to be the happiest team at these Games. The mere fact that they aren’t facing the threat of electroshock treatments upon returning makes it a win-win situation for them.
Perhaps Uday and Qusay Hussein stumbled upon a great motivational tactic by dying. After spending years dreading games because of the inevitable torture at the hands of Saddam’s sons, the Iraqi players have had their cement shoes removed.
The only comparable experience would be to graduate from a Bobby Knight team. Think it’s a coincidence that Indiana made the Final Four the year after Knight was fired? Fear isn’t a great way to get players to perform, whether it’s fear of being hooked up to a car battery after a tough loss or of listening to Knight’s umpteenth tantrum about failing to block out.
Then again, maybe Allen Iverson and crew (teammates, not posse) need a little fear to motivate them. Can we reinstitute the draft solely for NBA players?
– Tribune staff writer Jared Green can be reached at (530) 542-8008 or email@example.com
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