A few years ago the Belgian Basketball Federation was on the verge of disbanding its national team, which was hurting fiscally and competitively. Then a Brussels businessman named Leon Wandel stepped in. He hired American coaching elder Jack Ramsay as an adviser. In May, Wandel took the team to Orlando, Fla., to learn from Shaquille O'Neal and his Orlando Magic teammates. And Wandel rounded up some sponsors, one of which, Adidas, made a familiar and simple offer: If the Belgian players wore Adidas's shoes, the team could count on Adidas's money in return.
But on the eve of the European championships, Nike cut its own deal with Belgium's young star, Eric Struelens, and things became complicated. Struelens insisted on wearing Nikes. Wandel told him he would wear Adidas or he wouldn't play. In a game against Germany, and another against Estonia, Streulens played, but he did so miserably. On the bench during timeouts he would unlace his shoes in a show of pique. When he missed a shot, he would look petulantly down at his feet. Belgium lost both games, and Estonia and Germany went to Munich. "All of a sudden, after four years of playing in Adidas without any problems, he's trying to say that they hurt his feet," said Wandel. "He was trying to make the world believe that we were torturing him."
Torture is relative, every bit as much as normality is. What will shoes do for me? asked the Belgian. Bring us shoes, said the Bosnians, and let us do something for others. That is how things stood last week in Munich, where Bosnia was and Belgium wasn't.