The absolute worst rooting experience you can have as a sports fan is when you find yourself rooting for a team to simply not lose.
The high of victory for teams like these is really not that high, but the low of defeat is depression city. Yeah, it’s fine that your team is expected to win it all, but those ridiculous expectations ruin the rooting and viewing experience entirely.
Rooting for the USA men’s basketball team at the Olympics has been like this for 20 years now. There’s little fun in watching these multi-millionaires attempt to bring home the gold, other than getting to see the occasional highlight reel alley-oop (something that happens 15-20 times during each and every NBA All-Star game).
Now, the original Dream Team in 1992 - with Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing et al. - was great. Never before had we seen a collection of talent like that on one court together and never before had we seen that level of dominance.
But dominance like that quickly gets boring. Remember who was on Dream Team II in 1996 in Atlanta? Nope, neither do I.
In 2004 in Athens, Argentina won the gold medal. Team USA earned the most pathetic bronze medal in Olympic history. If memory serves, there was no ticker-tape parade down the Canyon of Heroes for Allen Iverson, Tim Duncan, Stephon Marbury, a young LeBron James and a young Carmelo Anthony when they returned to the states that summer.
Dominance had turned to apathy when it came to USA basketball, and now today we’re in this super-awkward third stage where we’re just hoping Team USA 2016 doesn’t screw this thing up.
Making matters more awkward is that the best player on this summer’s team is Kevin Durant, who just four weeks ago became the most hated athlete in the U.S.. Durant decided to join the Golden State Warriors in an effort to create the most dominant team in NBA history. Now, he will look to change the opinions of thousands of jaded American basketball fans over the next few weeks by trying to beat Venezuela by 60 points and by generally attempting to – you guessed it - dominate. In other words, he will apologize for his desire to dominate by dominating players who will never sniff an NBA floor.
Meanwhile, the head coach of Team USA is the lovable Mike Krzyzewski, who has a popular Facebook page dedicated to him titled, “Mike Krzyzewski is the Antichrist.” As if Coach K wasn’t hard enough to root for to begin with, he’s been yelling at his players during these recent exhibition games to sit down on the bench and “not have so much fun.” DeMar DeRozan tried a 360 dunk nearly decapitating a Chinese defender this past week and Coach K flipped out because a couple guys (remember, multi-millionaire men) on his bench actually had the nerve to get excited. Imagine what Coach K would have done to Barkley in ’92 when he was throwing elbows at 160-pound Angolan “power” forwards?
Here’s my solution to all this crap: Have a real Team USA.
Many claim that the reason the rest of the world has closed the gap is because these other countries have players who have played together for years. And, yes, that’s part of the issue for sure.
But why can’t the U.S. assemble a team of blue chip high schoolers every four years and build for the next Olympics? There would be new cycle of young U.S. talent every Olympic summer. Have these kids play together for four years during each and every summer. Hell, sign some of them to Team USA contracts and have them skip the farce that is college basketball altogether.
Basketball junkies would salivate over getting to watch these teams grow over the course of four years, and it would be highly intriguing to see if these groups of talented young-ins could eventually take down the men who are on the rest of the world’s rosters during the Olympics.
That would certainly be a fun rooting experience. Much more fun than the one we’re about to undertake.