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A few random thoughts from the first week of the Olympics:
Who would have thought that the two most popular teams in America would be from Iraq and Puerto Rico? The Iraqi soccer team has been a classic underdog story, heartwarming to watch. (And I'm sure there are a dozen screenwriters in Hollywood pitching their story.) Olympic soccer is tough to handicap, but from what I've seen there's no reason to think this team can't medal.
As for the Puerto Rican basketball team, I have to tell you, I've been a little surprised by the Dream Team backlash. In a previous blog I took a swipe at the Dream Team, saying how happy I was that they got beat by Italy in an Olympic warmup. A surprising number of people e-mailed and told me they agreed -- that Team USA plays a boring, selfish brand of basketball. But I never expected what I witnessed on Sunday: people -- Americans, mind you -- high-fiving as Carlos Arroyo toyed with the Dream Team.
Now, don't get me wrong. I appreciate the guys who went to Athens to represent their country. But the world has clearly caught up with us in hoops, and it's always enjoyable to watch the little guy give the big, bad overconfident bullies a comeuppance -- even when your country is the big, bad bully. (Remember Angola?)
The Dream Teamers have two big problems. First, they don't have a full-time coach and lack continuity. Why overhaul the roster every two years? By doing so, every decent NBA player knows he's going to get a chance to play at some time. Why not send the message that only the 12 best players in the country will make the team, that it's not like Little League, where everybody eventually gets a turn. If U.S. Basketball made it clear that a spot on the roster is a privilege and not a right, it might awaken a sense of pride in some of the guys who passed on Athens.
Two, the style of ball Dream Teamers are used to playing in the NBA just doesn't translate to the international game. And that, I think, is where a lot of the backlash comes from. People are sick of low-scoring, unexciting pro games, and seeing a team of stars humbled by Puerto Rico is about as damning an indictment of the NBA as I can think of. The league's style of play is not only aesthetically unpleasing, it's ineffective. (Compare the watchability of any NBA Finals game with the Argentina-Serbia and Montenegro game. It's no contest.) Will the Dream Team's struggles change the NBA for the better? No, but a man can hold out hope.
Speaking of aesthetically unpleasing sport, is there a worse event to watch on TV than fencing? The combatants dress up in shiny silver suits that light up when they're struck, making the fencers look like Eugene Levy during the Nothing Ever Happens on Mars number in Waiting For Guffman. ... And fellas, swashbuckle a little, will ya?
Actually, the Summer Olympics really have a lot of sports that don't really translate to TV: sailing, rowing, shooting. Perhaps the Games could use a new sport. Like phone book ripping. Now there's something I'd pay to see. One of my favorite weird-injury stories deals with major league knuckleballer SteveSparks. He was with the Brewers at the time, and the team brought in some motivational speakers who ripped phone books and blew up hot water bottles. Sparks got a little too motivated. He tried to replicate the Yellow Pages trick and dislocated his shoulder.
One sport I don't mind watching is diving. I'm a little up in the air on synchronized diving, though, in large part because of this story. What does it say about a sport if the competitors can so easily become unnerved by a man in a tutu? And what does it say about security at the Games that a man in a tutu can make it to the diving board? In my experience, guys in tutus tend to stick out in a crowd.
In my last blog I asked which sportscaster turned in the best acting performance. (Thanks to everyone who wrote in, by the way.) Bob Costas got a ton of support for his role in BASEketball, but I don't know if I agree. I think he shocked people more than anything by delivering the semi-tawdry line, "You're excited? Feel these nipples!" It's sort of like the Chappelle's Show sketch in which squeaky clean Wayne Brady reveals himself to be a cop-killing pimp. (One of the funniest sketches ever, by the way.) Bob Uecker also received a lot of mentions, for both Major League and Mr. Belvedere. My personal favorite: MelAllen's "How about that?" as an outfielder's head falls off during the highlights montage in The Naked Gun.
So here's this week's question, which came to me as I watched fellow blogger Josh Elliott on Around the Horn Tuesday. What would your ideal ATH roster be? Doesn't have to be sportscasters. I'd definitely want Stephen A. Smith and Samuel L. Jackson, just to see them yell at each other. Throw in Howard Dean and you've got the real possibility that someone's head might explode. I'd also want someone who's a little calmer, and I've always admired the way Tony Blair keeps his composure during the Prime Minister's Questions. So that's my mix.
Gotta run. Thanks for reading, and stay classy.
Mark Bechtel covers NASCAR for Sports Illustrated and SI.com.