Work in Sports
Dream Team antics no different from typical NBA game
SYDNEY, Australia -- As Kevin Garnett sauntered off the court with the American flag wrapped around his glistening dome as a headband, motioning for the crowd to cheer even louder for him and his teammates, and Vince Carter strutted about throwing punches in the air with Old Glory tucked in his shirt like a bib, one thing was obvious: Other countries may have closed the gap on the U.S. in basketball, but the rest of the world has miles to go before it can match the Americans in prancing, preening and general self-adoration.
Team USA wrapped up the gold medal with an 85-75 victory over France on Sunday that was harder than it should have been, and the Americans did it in exactly the manner we have come to expect from them in these Olympics. They were alternately edgy and elegant, athletic and arrogant, sometimes exhilarating to watch and other times maddening to look at. They will be bashed in many quarters for their behavior, for their finger-pointing and trash-talking, for laying elbows in opponents' chests and pounding their own, but the truth -- the sad truth, if you like, but the truth nonetheless -- is that they did nothing in Sydney that you wouldn't see in a typical game in the NBA or anywhere else in America.
With a few inexcusable exceptions, like assistant coach Larry Brown berating an official after the near-upset against Lithuania and Carter going jaw-to-jaw with some Russian players, Team USA behaved the way American basketball players of this era behave. The Olympics are about bringing different cultures together in sport and, like it or not, posing, mugging and playing to the crowd are a part of American basketball culture, particularly African-American basketball culture. Cringe if you like, bemoan it if you must, but don't expect Team USA to suddenly act as if it's at a tea party with Juan Antonio Samaranch.
This isn't to dismiss Team USA's excesses. The Americans came to the Olympics with the mission of representing the U.S. in a way that the country could be proud of, and they sometimes fell short of that goal. But remember that the players weren't just pounding their chests because they were proud of themselves, but because they were proud that USA was emblazoned on those chests. If you are disappointed in the team, ask yourself if it's because of their occasional lapses in sportsmanship or because they didn't show their patriotism the same way you would.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Phil Taylor covered the men's basketball competition in Sydney for the magazine and CNNSI.com.