In the interest of, well, interest, Team USA needs a challenge

by | Special to

So far Team USA is walking all over the competition. (Getty Images)  
So far Team USA is walking all over the competition. (Getty Images)  

I root for the United States to come out on top in trade surpluses, international beauty pageants and per-capita secondary-school graduation rates. I break into an un-ironic chant of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" whenever I steer clear of a traffic jam or find an unordered McFlurry in my takeout sack. To quote the should-be national anthem, "I'm proud to be an American, where [sic] at least I know I'm free."

That said, three preliminary-round games into the preordained re-coronation that is 2012 men's Olympic basketball, it's becoming clear that only a medal-round upset can redeem it. Which creates a real problem for Camaro-loving patriots like you and me: There's only a single giant to be slain, and he wears the same star-spangled garb that Mary Lou Retton once did. Thus it's time to put aside our collective affinities for liberty, barbecue and tank tops, and pray for someone, anyone, to take down Dream Team v.6.0.

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Rooting against one's homeland in anything, save maybe for domestic surveillance, is generally an exercise in strained contrarianism -- you know, like, "I would totally rather fold laundry than race Go-Karts." At the same time, kicking ass for the sake of kicking ass gets old quick.

Team USA has the best athletes. It is guided by a brilliant, relentless scold of a basketball lifer. Those high-neck, odd-fonted jerseys the players donned against Tunisia -- pretty darn sharp, no?

Sure, the 3-point shooting comes and goes and, yes, we forgot to pack our seven-footers. But really -- can you identify a weakness that another team in this tournament is capable of exploiting? Can you identify a legitimate threat to Team USA's dominance that doesn't involve an overabundance of English cuisine?

Team USA's first three games have been most notable for the banality of its domination. The opening win over France played like a post-practice scrimmage. The game against Tunisia featured the opposing coach's skinny jeans and little else of interest. The most compelling moment during USA/Nigeria came when a cameraperson somehow located a L.A.-grade blonde in the stands after Russell Westbrook fed James Harden for a blunt-force dunk. Even including a wonky stretch in the first half against Tunisia, during which the pre-Olympics whinnying about Team USA's tendency towards sloppiness briefly appeared prophetic, we've seen about eight watchable minutes out of 120 total.

It doesn't help that we're falling over ourselves to create storylines where there are none (see under, "On a team where just about every player is used to being The Man, who's The Man?" and "What happens if, in an effort to make sure no ego goes un-stroked, the U.S. players start to over-pass?"). If you have to strain to create compelling plot lines, you don't have a story truly worth telling. See what the WNBA is up against?

Then there's the ... shall we say, dubious ... likability of the U.S. squad. LeBron's six-week redemption tour during the NBA playoffs, in which he lifted liberally from Michael Jordan's human-tornado playbook, still wasn't enough to make most fans forgive his sins against Cleveland. His barrage from behind the international arc against Nigeria notwithstanding, Carmelo Anthony is where basketballs go to die. Kobe Bryant and Coach Mike Krzyzewski are in legacy-extension mode; the trio of A-list point guards seem mostly interested in who can deliver the prettiest alley-oop feed to human trampoline Anthony Davis.

Taken together, it's enough to make a fella ask: Where's the fun? Basketball imperialism may not be as troubling from a moral perspective as standard-issue imperialism, but it still doesn't feel all that uplifting to be on the side of the conquering, domineering entity.

In theory, a handful of teams could pull off an upset on a very, very off night for Team USA. Spain, for instance, is tall. Lithuania is disciplined. Brazil can handle the press. Argentina and Russia pick-and-roll with varying degrees of competence. Any of these particular traits and talents could make the team exhibiting them a half-difficult matchup, in theory. Of course, in theory, communism works.

Nonetheless: Go Australia. Go China. Go Great Britain, you plucky automatic-bid beneficiaries, you. Make a tournament of this, somebody. Please.

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