Nobody knows for sure anymore what the Olympic spirit is. Small grace notes remind us, whole symphonies sometimes, and then we forget again when the music is drowned out by, well, the Dream Team. You remember the Dream Team, some guys on their summer vacation who get together to do some barnstorming every four years. If the Olympic spirit is some grand orchestration, these guys are the boom box on the beach.
Early on, their natural noise overwhelmed sweeter strains. The day they whacked Argentina in prime time, better news was obscured. You had American swimmer Angel Martino apologizing for winning only the bronze in the 100-meter freestyle and then, backstage, placing her medal around the neck of a friend struggling with cancer. In basketball, you had Lithuania beating Croatia in double overtime, a likely gold medal game in a Dream Team-less world. The big story: U.S. 96, Argentina 68.
No fault of the Dream Team. It is the world's best, and this is where the best belonged. Never mind that its players are the best paid: That is more a reflection of their nation's economy than any perversion of the Olympic ideal (for that matter, there were a couple of millionaires in the Lithuania-Croatia game). All the same, the Dream Team's dominance no longer seemed the pleasing curiosity it had been four years ago in Barcelona. Shaquille O'Neal's posting up against some South American whose team last qualified for the Olympics in 1952 did not really look like fair play.
So for all those who chafe at the sight of NBA All-Stars riding roughshod over countries with near-zero basketball tradition, we offer a corrective suggestion, one far less drastic than you have in mind: patience. Yes, the Dream Team beat Argentina. But there was also this matter of a mere two-point lead at the half, during which the Dreamers looked like a bunch of guys groping for the snooze button.
Nobody in the USA camp needs to panic, of course. The world is at least a few Olympics away from matching up with these guys; developing programs do not come with 6'9" point guards right out of the box. Still, it's just a matter of time—these things always are—before some announcer in some language is wondering whether you believe in miracles. You do, don't you?