|LeBron James and Kobe Bryant are having fun in London, but Team USA's dominance has become rote. (AP)|
The U.S. men's basketball team blows out Tunisia by 47 and Nigeria by 83, and it's too much. We beat Lithuania by five points, and it's not enough.
What would be just right?
This isn't an endorsement of the under-23 idea being pushed by NBA commissioner David Stern, who wants to save the dreamiest NBA players for the world championships -- so NBA owners could make a profit. I don't care about Stern, I don't care about his owners, and I don't care about their business interests. This isn't about that, so don't get confused. You want to rip my opinion? Fine. Then understand it:
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I'm tired of the Dream Team. It's way too good, except for the times when it's not nearly good enough. Either way, I'm sick of it. This is an experiment that has run its course, a point that was made in 1992 and has been repeated over and over, that the best players in the world are Americans. The rest of the world may well be closing the gap, but they haven't caught up -- and I doubt they ever will.
We have too many advantages, and I'm not ashamed of those advantages. The sport was invented in America, cultivated here, established here. Our developmental system isn't perfect -- at the highest levels, youth amateur basketball in America is a degrading meat market -- but it produces more NBA talent than the rest of the world combined. Probably always will, given our country's population and passion not only for the game, but for the life-changing carrots the game dangles: social status, free education, million-dollar contracts.
To be very clear, our country has earned the right to demolish every team in its path. When we beat Nigeria by 83, that wasn't shameful. We weren't running up the score. The worst player on Team USA would be the biggest star for Nigeria. Factor in the 24-second shot clock, which makes stalling impossible for either side, and blowouts are going to happen.
Doesn't mean I want to see it. United States 156, Nigeria 73 ... how do you feel good about something like that? Nigeria had no chance. Tunisia had no chance.
Lithuania should have had no chance.
Bully for Lithuania for making a game of it, and bully --- I guess -- for Team USA for overcoming the pressure that must have been oppressive as our players looked at the scoreboard, saw a one-point game in the final minutes, and knew the world would mock them if they lost. That's pressure, and Team USA didn't buckle.
But feel good about that win? Me? I can't feel good about that win, or any win by these guys. Don't you see? We're supposed to win -- and win easily -- which makes the actual games something to be endured, not enjoyed.
This must be what it's like to root for the Yankees, a team with so many advantages that it should never lose. Let's say the 2012 season continues on its current path and the Yankees win the AL East by 10 games, get to the World Series and then defeat, say, the Reds in six games. How do you celebrate that? By virtue of their New York City location, the Yankees can afford the highest payroll in baseball by 15 percent -- imagine a college football team, like Alabama, competing with 15 percent more scholarships than everyone else -- and their $197 million payroll is at least twice that of 21 other MLB teams (including the Reds). Serious question: When the Yankees win, how do Yankees fans feel proud?
That's where I am with Team USA. We're too good, and I don't like being too good. Too bad? I don't want to be there, either. I don't want to be Tunisia or Nigeria or even Lithuania, which had no business -- none -- being within 30 points of Team USA.
Look, Lithuania's second leading scorer on Saturday was Martynas Pocius. He had 14 points and led Lithuania with seven rebounds and six assists. He's a shooting guard. Recognize the name? Martynas Pocius? He played at Duke, sort of. He was there from 2006-09, but he couldn't get off the bench for any of those four Mike Krzyzewski teams.
Now he's one of the best players Lithuania has to offer against Coach K's Dream Team? That's silly. Basketball's a team sport, yadda-yadda-yadda, but that doesn't change the fact that Lithuania doesn't have a single player -- stop it before you suggest Linas Kleiza -- who could make the Team USA roster.
And we won by just five points. That feels embarrassing. But if we'd won by 35? That would have felt empty, because that's what we were supposed to do.
If you're asking me what I'd rather see, I'd love to see our best amateurs compete in the Olympics, including those -- like current Olympian Anthony Davis -- who have left college but haven't played in the NBA yet. But the rest of the world would have to go along, because it wouldn't be fair to send our best youngsters into a tournament where a team like Argentina has 10 guys at least 28 years old.
So I guess what I'm saying is, I don't know what realistic alternative I'd rather see. But I don't want to see this, so maybe I should just quit watching. Oh, wait -- I already have. This isn't 1992 when we watched our motivated NBA stars prove, as if anyone doubted it, that we had the best basketball players in the world. Of course we had the best basketball players in the world in 1992. We do in 2012. And we will in 2096.
We're IBM. We're the Yankees. We're too big to fail, though somehow we manage from time to time. Maybe we'll manage again during the 2012 Olympics, which would be mortifying, but that's where we are with Team USA. That's where I am, anyway -- can't enjoy blowouts, can't appreciate anything less.
Dream Team? Wake me when it's over.