- Last Updated: 3:17 PM, August 7, 2012
- Posted: 3:22 AM, August 7, 2012
LONDON — It helps to watch in person. It does. That’s when the amalgamation of talent is most stunning, even at this point of an Olympic competition when actually winning basketball games isn’t necessarily paramount on everyone’s mind.
Spain walked through its game against Brazil last night; the CCNY point shavers would have had a hard time losing to Pau and pals last night.
Then came the Americans and the Argentinians, on ABA throwback night, when both teams gunned the ball up and down the floor, when both cranked up 3 after 3, when neither saw much need to — ahem — give away any secrets they may plan to use defensively the rest of the way. All that was missing was Mike Krzyzewski in a leisure suit. Argentina’s uniforms even looked like the Carolina Cougars’ (or maybe it was the Utah Stars, or the Floridians).
And in some ways, that’s when you best realize what a shame it would be if they mess with the format of this quadrennial gathering, if they turn this into a 23-and-under free-for-all, into what would essentially be an AAU reunion tour for kids who aren’t quite there or may never get there.
We forget sometimes the Olympics are supposed to be about talent, about “Citius, Altius, Fortius,” which sounds like it could be the starting frontcourt for Lithuania but actuality translates to “Higher, Faster, Stronger,” the Olympic motto.
It’s a worthy ideal, and it’s one that every sport except one currently strives for, because men’s soccer is now essentially an U-23 event with three exceptions per team. It’s one reason why the women’s side of that sport is so much more compelling (games like the U.S. 4, Canada 3 epic at Old Trafford yesterday is the other).
It’s also one reason nobody misses baseball at the Olympics, if in fact there was ever anyone who was completely happy it was here: With the exception of Cuba, there weren’t any players you ever really wanted to see.
If you hold a world championship in a sport and the world’s best 300 or so players at that sport aren’t invited, what’s the point?
Answer: There is no point.
Look, we are way past the point where money is an issue. Shamateurism is dead. Does anyone care that Usain Bolt took home close to $20 million in 2011 and stands to maybe double that by the time 2012 is done? There certainly were no objectors, conscientious or otherwise, when he was streaking down the track at Olympic Stadium Sunday night.
Newsflash: Michael Phelps didn’t stay in youth hostels when he swam across Europe in Olympics off-years. Neither will Missy Franklin. Track, swimming, shooting, cycling — only the best are welcome here. That’s how it always was supposed to be, and now that paychecks don’t preclude you from walking in the Opening Ceremonies, that’s the way it’s been.
Limiting the talent pool limits the sport. And, frankly, if that’s the way basketball is going, it should just hold world championships every year and stay out of the Olympics. That sounds like a horrifying possibility, but the truth is the first nine Olympics — including 1932’s Games in Los Angeles — survived without it.
Yes, sometimes U.S.-Tunisia can get tiresome. The truth is there are only a handful of teams capable of beating a high-end American team. You know what? The U.S. may play China in table tennis for the next 200 years and never come close to winning gold. Do we ask the Chinese to send over the JV?
The U.S. beat Argentina like a drum in the second half last night, won the game, 126-97. Some will think that’s further proof we need to blow up Olympic basketball. When in fact, it’s further testimony why it’s perfect precisely as it is. Talent kills. And also sells.