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NBC turns Olympics coverage into a never-ending homage to gymnastics

Posted: Tuesday August 24, 2004 11:46AM; Updated: Tuesday August 24, 2004 1:43PM
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So I was watching Olympic gymnastics last night when I realized that I was watching Olympic gymnastics. And not for the first time, either. This was probably, oh, the fourth or fifth night that I've watched gymnastics -- a number that coincides exactly with the number of nights I've attempted to watch the Olympics on NBC. I've reached the point where I know more about gymnastics than any other sport (outside of hoops). There's the girl with the heartwarming story who is supported by Pam Anderson. There's the Russian diva who posed for Playboy in her homeland. And that American who won gold really should have won silver. And so on and so on.

I don't know this information by choice. Rather, in my patriotic attempt to keep abreast of the Games (a subject, by the way, that my SI compatriot Steve Cannella wrote about very nicely last week), I turn on the nighttime coverage during dinner, or after dinner, or while drinking an adult beverage. And no matter when I turn on the TV between 8-11:30 p.m. I invariably see gymnastics. Or, on occasion, swimming. Though if they were to create a sport called 'water gymnastics', I'm sure it would pre-empt the 100 fly.

Now, I have nothing against gymnastics as an event. The gymnasts are incredible athletes operating under excruciating pressure. The women have extraordinary balance and the men have biceps the size of roasting turkeys. More power to them.

But, I wouldn't mind seeing something else. Anything else. Give me five minutes of Ping-Pong -- I'm sure NBC could cook up some melodramatic primer on at least one of the competitors to keep all the precious female viewers hooked. Or how about rowing? Or weightlifting? Or softball? Maybe they are showing these sports, or more likely three-minute snippets of them, but it sure ain't happening when I tune in to the flagship network.

Sure enough, I just looked over at the TV after typing those last two paragraphs and, at 11:26 PM ET, what do I see but -- you guessed it! -- those lovable Hamm brothers.

That's a bummer, because I heard that the U.S. women's soccer team won on an overtime goal by phenom Heather O'Reilly. And that the women's softball squad finished its destruction of the field and won gold. And that the men's water polo team lost to Serbia-Montenegro....

Does losing matter to Dream Team?

Having already devoted the better part of two blogs to the U.S. men's basketball team, I will not add anymore to the landfills of newsprint (or in this case, gigabytes of web text) already accorded to the squad's struggles (way to lay down the hammer on Angola yesterday guys!). I would, however, like to relate a scene (a parable of sorts) I witnessed some years ago -- let's say, in 1997 -- at a rec center in an unnamed Southern city (let's call it "Jackson, Mississippi"). It was late summer and the regular crew of streetballers had gathered for afternoon pickup games. Most had parked their cars where most people do, that being in the parking lot, between the helpful white lines. One gleaming SUV, however, had been driven right up onto the curb in front of the door to the gym. To get in, you had to walk around the car. Its owner was inside, playing ball. An NBA point guard who shall remain nameless -- for the sake of this story, we'll refer to him as "Lindsey." He was in the prime of his career, having averaged 14.2 points for an Eastern Conference team that season.

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Anyway, Lindsey was in the process of getting schooled by a local nobody. The guy picked his pocket a few times, abused him on the other end and wasn't shy about telling him just what he thought of his game (hint: it wasn't complimentary). At the time, I was young and impressionable and, frankly, very surprised. How could an NBA player get embarrassed so thoroughly by some random dude?

These days, hardened as I am by four years covering the league, I understand completely. Not only did the never-made-it naturally want it a lot more than our NBA hero but both players understood that, regardless of the outcome, it didn't change what really mattered in their world: One of them had a big shiny SUV and a multimillion dollar contract and the other didn't.

Which is same attitude the U.S. team, or at least some of them (I can't imagine this is how Tim Duncan feels), brought to the Olympics: Those dudes from (insert international team name here) might want it more but they still haven't made it in the league or gotten paid like we have. So even if we lose, we still win.

This, needless to say, sums up a lot of what is wrong with pro basketball in the U.S. right now.

Cover your ears

Watching Macy Gray emit a noise that would scare small children in her new Sony ad made me wonder where anyone got the idea that there was a pressing need to cover Aerosmith's Walk this Way yet again (see Run DMC). But then, I was also unaware that a number of 80s tunes best left in the 80s -- Take my Breath Away, Hold me Now, It's my Life -- were in need of updates by current "singers" such as Jessica Simpson. That said, of those three, the No Doubt cover is the most palatable. And none comes close to matching the wretchedness that was Madonna's cover of American Pie a few years back. As for good covers, may I recommend the Gourds' take on Gin and Juice (often listed as being sung by Ween on your friendly neighborhood song-stealing services), an ass-kicking country-fied homage to what was already a classic.

Sam Cassell, Part II

As of Monday morning, no word from the T'wolves point guard regarding accusations of criminal undertipping (see last week's blog for background). His agent didn't return calls regarding this pressing matter, and even if he had, it's unlikely he could have tracked down Sammy. According to Wolves PR, the team's own equipment manager has been trying to get hold of Cassell all summer without any luck.Regardless, this provides an excuse to mention what may be the best on-court, post-shot display in the history of basketball (or any sport for that matter. And if you have a better nomination, by all means send it in). After sinking a clutch shot in last year's playoffs, Cassell turned and ran back down the court with his hands cupped down by knees, as if he were carrying two testicles the size of beach balls. ESPN, bless its Disney-controlled soul, replayed it about nineteen times a day.

And, on that note, I'm out of here. Gotta watch me some floor exercises!