Our not-so-dream-team: Modest hopes for US men's basketball at Tokyo 2021 Olympics

When I discovered that America's Olympic basketball team suffered two surprising losses to Nigeria and Australia, there was a twinge of frustration in me.  I told my wife that it's too bad that our team is playing badly, because I really want to root for them and see them win in Tokyo.

"Why?" she asked.  "They probably don't like us, and they probably don't like the country they play for."

Touché.  She makes a valid point, considering NBA players' lack of respect for our nation's symbol and its national anthem.

I'm looking forward to the Olympic games, as I always have.  Maybe that feeling is heightened because it's a year late.  Maybe it's because there's been a dearth of sports in our lives, given that we can't watch professional football, basketball, or baseball, lest we find ourselves headlong into political lectures about America being an evil, racist place, or suggestions that black Americans have some other "national anthem" that's different from America's national anthem, which we rubes have always assumed was all Americans' national anthem, regardless of skin color. 

But the pangs I was feeling around America's basketball losses, I realized, seemed to be the nostalgic inverse of the feelings I had leading up to the summer of 1992. 

In that year, the Dream Team stormed Barcelona.  There has been no greater sports spectacle in my lifetime than seeing the greatest in the game mercilessly destroy every other nation in what was, at that time, unquestionably America's sport. 

We knew the outcome before the games even began.  The average margin of victory was more than 40 points.  The closest game was the final against Croatia, for the gold, which the Dream Team won by 32 points. 

Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Charles Barkley, et al.  These were not mere sports figures.  These were legends whom we had the privilege of watching play in real time.  And somehow, I knew that, even back then, and couldn't have been prouder that they were my countrymen, representing me on the world stage and exhibiting American exceptionalism.

America isn't the same place it was back then, sadly.  And basketball's heyday is over.  We could speculate as to the reasons for that, but it doesn't change the fact.  There's not a child in the world who is watching their national basketball team feeling the same pride that we felt in 1992.

But old habits die hard.  I'll still watch and will still root for our boys in Tokyo.  And perhaps we shouldn't expect the same sort of widespread patriotic fervor that I witnessed in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the murderous global scourge of Soviet communism. 

But then, I think most Americans would settle for the American players proudly standing for their own flag and national anthem in Tokyo. 

Here's hoping that, at least, happens.

Image: Pixabay, Pixabay License.

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