America's star-spangled basketball banner is nothing to wave

John Staedman

July 01, 1992|By John Steadman

Watching a superior force annihilate an undermanned adversary makes for a woeful, brutal experience, and seeing the U.S. Olympic All-Pro basketball team beat up on Cuba, Canada and Panama is boring bullyism at its worst. Why would anyone want to pay to see the most momentous overmatch since Great Britain took on Argentina in the War of the Falklands?

Feeding early Christians to the lions was martyrdom. The little countries have about as much of a chance and the only good thing is the basketball losers walk away. But don't get too critical. It comes under the heading of modern sport, wrapped in phony patriotism, and what the public is conned into buying is known as the Tournament of the Americas, a preliminary to the Olympics.

You have to wonder why Portland, Ore., a grand city, has to be punished with this kind of tryout trash. Yes, poor Portland. It deserves much better than to be used as a venue for a series of dummy scrimmages.

There is no way to remotely rationalize the mistake of changing from pure amateurs, college players, to collecting a squad of all-stars from the National Basketball Association and letting them suit up against opposition that couldn't play its way out of a telephone booth.

The Original Celtics, if they could come out of their graves, would make for a better contest. And so would the Washington Generals, the punching bags who accommodate the Harlem Globetrotters. Possibly, the All-American Red Heads, the team of touring women who migrate around the country playing local yokels in high school gyms, could offer more reasonable competition.

Doesn't it make all of us, as patriots, feel so deeply proud that in the only truly American game on the Olympic agenda, basketball, we are now represented by all-winning mercenaries? The U.S. outfit is so stocked with talent that if it somehow loses in Barcelona, when the official Olympic shooting starts, the entire team should be made to swim home wearing blindfolds, handcuffs and leg irons.

The entire concept of the U.S. Olympic Committee's vote to allow pros to participate in games usually reserved for amateurs is degrading. It's enough to make anyone with a kernel of sense forget about ever giving to the Olympic cause. Let the pros pay their own way and the rest of America can forget about donating to the Olympic "charity."

To pre-empt the collegians from going to the Olympics and substitut

ing the professionals is sick. In the past, college players, even if they didn't have the ability to make the grade in the NBA, were devoted to trying to make a place on the Olympic squad.

They played college basketball with more noble pursuits in mind than scoring in the NBA. The Olympics became a dream, an objective, and, if they were fortunate enough, a distinction they would be able to carry through the rest of their lives. Now the pros are going to the Olympics and the college kids have been all but dealt out of the picture.

Wes Unseld, coach of the Washington Bullets, decried the decision that the best of the NBA was going to be involved in the Olympic effort. He said it was totally unnecessary and insisted, "There's enough good players in college to win at the Olympic level if you pick the 12 best players."

Another college leader, George Raveling of Southern California, is in agreement. "What saddens me," he said, "is the 20-year-old kid who will never make it to the NBA, nor does he want to, will now never have a chance to play in the Olympics. This will take away a special moment in the progression of an amateur player's life. It's probably the single greatest honor an amateur player can have."

If the United States is going to dress the pros in red, white and blue to play basketball, then it should call timeout in the baseball season and send a team of American and National League all-stars to win a gold medal. Or Evander Holyfield could win the Olympic gold in boxing. Why not? It's all the same.

America's insistence down through the years that it was playing by the book and using only amateurs represented the highest of sporting ideals. Win or lose, we could all feel proud. But no more. The U.S. Olympic Committee has prostituted itself. The Olympics are now a showcase for selling shoes, jackets, hats and other paraphernalia and NBA players will gain the residual benefits in the years to come.

Letting the pros enter the Olympics is a sham and a shame . . . a low point in the history of American sports.

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