Four years ago in Beijing the American basketball world very nearly got a rude shock when Spain’s national team scored 107 points and trailed by just two with four minutes to play. Our eventual 119-107 victory did little to ease the minds of American fans; all we could think of was, in effect, “These guys are good and they’re getting better. And they’re not the only ones.”
On Sunday, in the game for the gold, Spain was throwing yet another scare into Team USA with about eight minutes left to play. With the score tied, the only good news for the US was that Marc Gasol was on the bench with four fouls – and that Ricky Rubio, still recuperating from a torn ACL and subsequent surgery, was unavailable.
Our final 107-100 victory over Spain was kind of a crystal ball, which showed American basketball fans what future Olympic contests are going to be like. Since their teams (the Spanish, the Russians, the Argentinians, whoever ) play together for much of the year – except for the odd NBA player – foreign teams are going to have more cohesiveness and fewer defensive holes, while our guys are going to always look like what they are: a collection of All-Stars who just can’t spend enough time prior to the Olympics to learn teamwork on defense and whose offense consists more and more of 3-point shooting.
Here’s something else to think about. Spain dominates the soccer world, storming through the last World Cup and wiping out opposition in the recent Euro 2012 competition. But the Spanish could make no headway in Olympic soccer because of the “23 and younger” rule. I don’t think it matters much to the Spaniards if they don’t walk off with Olympic gold if they can win the World Cup and the European championship.
If, however, the same rule is adopted for basketball, it will mean a great deal to the U.S. Picture, if you will, what our basketball team in Rio will be like without LeBron James, Kevin Durant, or in fact just about any NBA star whose name you know right now. If “23 or younger” becomes reality for basketball, the US will be back to where we were in 1988 when our college boys settled for the bronze while the Russians took gold and the Yugoslavs silver. Only it won’t be even that good,
because now we’d be living in a world where many national teams have gotten better because of contact with American colleges (American viewers were stunned to find out just how many players who learned their hoops at our universities were facing us in the Olympics).
And you may be interested to know who is rumored to favor the passing of such a rule for Olympic basketball. His name is NBA Commissioner David Stern, whose heart, apparently, does not beat faster at the thought of NBA players going off to play in a competition which brings in no revenue for his league.