Trouncing the competition is no way to even the score


July 05, 1992|By ROGER SIMON

In my dream, the U.S. Olympic basketball team takes the floor against the Kingdom of Bhutan in the first round at Barcelona.

Nestled in the eastern Himalayas, with most of its population engaged in subsistence agriculture, tiny Bhutan can find only five men in the kingdom who know the rules of the game.

The tallest is 5 feet 8 inches and has a wooden foot.

In the first quarter, the U.S. team, made up of America's finest professionals, whose yearly aggregate salary is greater than the gross national product of Turkey, run up a 126-0 score.

In the closing minutes of the second quarter, with Michael Jordan, Larry Byrd, Magic Johnson, Patrick Ewing and Charles Barkley on the floor, the score rises to 207-0.

With a crowd of American supporters shouting, "De-fense! De-fense! De-fense!", Byrd throws a vicious elbow into the face of the Bhutanese center as he tries for a sky hook.

The Bhutanese is awarded two shots, misses the first, but, manages to sink the second shot even though his eyes are swelling shut.

The two teams go to their locker rooms with a halftime score of 214-1.

In the last minute of the third quarter, the coach from Bhutan calls a time-out and tells officials that, due to injuries and a lack of stamina brought on by a diet deficient in all of the major food groups, his team can field only three players. He requests that the Americans cut down to a similar number.

The Americans refuse and Michael Jordan scores 27 unanswered points.

With six minutes to go in the final quarter and the score 406-1, the remaining Bhutanese are exhausted and unable to continue.

The American coach, citing a little known rule, insists that play continue with the American team opposing cardboard cutouts.

The Americans win by a final score of 579-1.

"We established our game early and took it to them," American Coach Chuck Daly tells reporters. "I was afraid the cardboard cutouts might throw us off, but we overcame that and stayed within our game."

Daly announces that he nonetheless intends to file an official protest, challenging the Bhutanese's lone point.

"I am pretty sure that guy with the wooden foot was on steroids," Daly says.

It is then I wake up screaming.

The American Olympic basketball team, made up entirely of professionals (the one collegian was just drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves) was recently described thusly: "Both historically and spiritually, it is the greatest athletic team ever assembled..."

The writer failed to list, however, a single example of the team's spirituality and it is very possible he thinks "spiritual" is a synonym for "tall."

When the American team was made up of amateurs at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, it did the one thing that American basketball teams are not supposed to do: It lost.

So now we have packed this team with so much professional talent that it is as near to a sure thing as has ever existed in sport.

And Michael Jordan has made clear that this team serves a purpose for all America.

"We've got to regain our sense of pride, our dignity," Jordan said. "Some way, even if it's just basketball, we can at least show the world that we can take control of something."

And you can see his point: We can't control our own economy. We can't stop murders on the streets of our cities. We can't even get rid of Saddam Hussein. So at least we can win a crummy basketball game!

But the essential question now becomes this: What is the value of victory if the victory is largely meaningless because the game is, essentially, fixed?

And the essential answer is: Who cares as long as we win?

In the Olympic qualifying rounds, we beat Cuba 136-57.

We beat Canada 105-61.

We beat Panama 112-52.

We beat Argentina 128-87.

And now we are looking for more teams we can run up the score against.

Mother Teresa and any four nuns of her choosing is a possibility.

Or how about a team with your grandmother as center?

What's that? Your grandmother is dead?

So what?

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