September 10, 2002

America's Nightmare Team

Print More

According to Merriam-Webster’s College Dictionary, hubris is “exaggerated pride or self confidence.” This overbearing arrogance caused the downfall of many a hero — Odysseus, Aeneas, and Oedipus, among others.

Why the Classics lecture in a sports column?

After the U.S. basketball team suffered its third defeat at the World Championships — an 81-75 debacle at the hands of Spain — I needed to find that one perfect word to describe Uncle Sam’s hoopsters.

Hubris not only embodies the 12 American players on the squad but American basketball culture as a whole. It’s understandable that the U.S. had such an attitude heading into the tournament. After all, ever since the “Dream Team” was assembled before the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, the Americans had accrued a 55-0 mark — accomplished primarily through big blowouts.

However, as success came easily to the U.S., its players became arrogant. Ten years ago, the American roster consisted of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, & Co. These ballers were the best that America had to offer. Heck, even my mom knows these guys, and she doesn’t even watch sports.

My mom would be hard pressed to name a single member of the 2002 edition, though. And so would a lot of sports fans.

Is the Big Aristotle, Shaq, on the roster? Nope.

Shaq’s sidekick, Kobe? Not a chance.

How about Tracy McGrady? Of course not.

Certainly Kevin Garnett, right? Wrong again.

Raef Lafrentz? Yeah, he’s on the team. Anybody ever hear of him?

The Americans showed up at the championships with their B-game and left with teeth marks on their rear ends. The biggest stars decided that a summer vacation or offseason surgery, as is the case for Shaq, is more important than playing for the red, white, and blue. That’s not to say that the current roster didn’t still have the most talented roster, because it clearly did. But the combination of an American B-squad, lack of practice time, and improving international talent was enough to sink the U.S.

Rather than deride the 12 players who played at the World Championship for their lackluster performance, we should applaud them. At least they signed on to play. Pathetic play aside, they represented the country (you can be the judge of how well), and were, at the very least, gracious in defeat.

As for the players who skipped the event? Those are the men who should draw our ire. Who in his right mind declines an offer to play for his country? Does Ronaldo ever tell the Brazilian soccer confederation that he’s busy? When Canada asked Joe Nieuewndyk ’88 to play hockey for the national team in the 2002 Olympics, did he respond, “Sorry aboot that. Maybe next year, eh?”

Of course not.

Some American players complained of a long season, and that they needed recuperation time. Lame excuse. If a 34-year old Vlade Divac can trudge all the way back to Yugoslavia to practice with his countrymen, then young twenty-somethings like Kobe, T-Mac, and Garnett can take a month away from their precious time in the Caribbean and spend it playing ball. If Peja Stojakovic can star for the gold-medal Yugoslavian team despite having painful bone spurs in his ankle, which incapacitated him during the NBA playoffs, then Shaq can deal with a pain in a little toe.

In some ways, maybe this sixth-place finish, the U.S.’s worst placing at a World Championship, will inspire the top players from our country to participate. Maybe we will once again see Americans running up and down the court holding a slam dunk contest during the game. More likely, however, the image of the U.S. team huddled together while watching opponents celebrate will become a more common occurrence on the international stage.

So like the Greek heroes before them, the Americans defied the gods, in this case, the basketball deities, and tragically went up in flames.

Archived article by Alex Ip