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Go Ahead, Wave That Flag.
Posted Wednesday, August 11, 2004

by Bill Hogan


 
 

The 2004 Olympic Games opening ceremony takes place in Athens, Greece on Friday. The USA men's basketball team makes its first appearance on Sunday in a preliminary round game against Puerto Rico.

Coming off an unimpressive pre-Olympic exhibition tour, there are some "experts" who believe this USA team is beatable; that there is a strong possibility they won't be bringing home the gold medal – or any medal for that matter.

 
 


After all, this team, led by Allen Iverson and Tim Duncan, actually lost to Italy – a team that didn't even qualify for the Olympics. They were harshly criticized for their exuberant celebration after a buzzer-beating prayer from Iverson gave the USA a desperate win over Germany – another mediocre international squad.

The team's too young and inexperienced, they say. The team lacks leadership. This team is "bereft of outside shooters," it was written at si.com. The general consensus seems to be that there are a number of teams in this tournament that could give the USA more than they can handle.

The bottom line is that the 2004 USA Men's Basketball team is no 1992 Dream Team. That team went to Barcelona, Spain and dismantled the competition; that team embarrassed its star-struck opponents by an average winning margin of 43.8 points.

The original Dream Team was filled with seasoned NBA veterans. A team stocked with future basketball Hall of Famers. Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing – the USA roster read like an ESPN top 25 list of basketball greats. And they didn't disappoint.

Alas, this year's squad seems destined to disappoint – remember, they are "bereft of outside shooters." Then again, maybe the United States Olympic Committee got just the team they were looking for to represent America in these games. A team that certainly will not dominate its opponents – if they manage to win at all.

Because winning isn't the primary goal at the 2004 Olympics. USA's success at these games won't be measured by gold medals and Olympic records. This year, it is imperative that the American athletes that travel to Athens behave themselves; because it is more important for the Greeks and the rest of the world to like us than it is for them to respect our athletic prowess.

No matter how long and hard an athlete has trained for one shining moment atop an Olympic podium, there will be no excessive celebrations and, for heaven's sake, no flag-waving. Because, as the USOC has warned, "American flag-waving may be viewed as confrontational."

In fact, no "jingoistic" activity of any kind will be tolerated by any athlete, no matter how jubilant and patriotic he or she may feel after an Olympic victory. (Boy, it sure is a good thing the '92 Dream Team isn't in Athens the next few weeks.)

I confess, I had to look up the word "jingoistic" when I first read the USOC's directive. According to Webster, jingoism means "extreme nationalism." It didn't sound like a bad thing to me. I thought I was missing something, so I again turned to Webster for a definition of nationalism - "devotion to national interests, unity and independence."

I might not be the brightest celestial body in the galaxy, but the "extreme nationalism" the USOC has labeled as "jingoism," I call good ol' American patriotism. I think Michael Jordan and the rest of the original Dream Team would agree.

There was no shortage of excessive celebration and flag-waving when the USA trounced Croatia by 32 points in the 1992 gold medal game. There was no thought of backing off against Angola, when the USA was up by 60 in their opening game two weeks earlier, for the sake of international relations.

There's no shame or dishonor in American athletes displaying pleasure and pride in their accomplishments and country – even at the risk of possibly offending someone; and especially if that someone happens to hate America.

The USA is 32-0 and the winner of three gold medals since NBA players started representing their country at the Olympics. The 2004 team isn't chopped liver; they are more than capable of collecting eight more wins and taking another trip to the top of the medals podium.

Of course, this would pose another delicate diplomatic problem for the USOC: the raising of the American flag and the playing of our National Anthem. I wonder it they will deem this traditional ceremony as more American "jingoism."

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