Sunday, August 24, 2008

"Redeem Team" passes with flying colors

If the US had managed to blow away Spain in late, late Saturday night/early, early Sunday morning's Olympic men's basketball final (which I fully anticipated, after the rout that was their first meeting), I was going to use this space to prolaim that, yes, indeed, we now had a second Team worthy of being called Dream.

Unfortunately, Spain put up one hell of a fight, redemption for the American's in danger until the final minute. Because of the astronomical improvement the rest of the world has made in basketball since the Holy Trinity (MJ, Magic, and Larry) and their Superfriends dominated the world 16 years ago, you can argue that the 2008 version of our national team is the most impressive we've had. The world had caught up to us in basketball, and we beat the world by an average of 27.9 points, which is the 1992 equivalent of about 55 points a game.

But since they didn't dominate every team they faced, I'll hold off on calling them Dream Team II. With many regrets. Just know that they came close. Damn close.

But it's okay. I've still got a story.

Few times in my life have I felt as American as I did in the wee hours of this morning. Watching Team USA as they attempted to hold off a resilient, gutsy Spanish team to win gold, I found myself rooting for them like I did for Floyd Mayweather Jr. when he fought Ricky Hatton in Vegas last December, when Hatton's British fanatics booed during the singing of our national anthem.

And when they finally won, I was as estactic as the players and coaches. All I needed was someone to hug. It was one thing to hear Kobe and LeBron talk about how important it was for them represent their country and reclaim gold; it was another to see their joyous celebration once they actually did.

It resembled that of a college team that had just won the national championship. You could even say they were like a bunch of 12-year olds that had just won the Little League World Series. Initially, I was shocked by their child-like giddiness; afterall, didn't they expect to win?

Of course.

But Jerry Colangelo asked these men for a three year commitment. And when you work with other people in giving such time and effort to a goal so important, so much bigger than yourself, the reward becomes that much greater, the camraderie that much stronger. Those smiles you saw last were sincere; those hugs were genuine. And they went to show that all this talk about team and country was not just hot air, but truth speaking.

Now, surely Dwyane Wade was motivated to use the world stage to show that he was back to being Dwyane Wade. And I'm sure that he and the guys who lost in 2004 in Athens and/or 2006 at the World Championships wanted to avenge those losses not only for their country, but for themselves.

But I don't think there's any question that, from Coach K on down, these men were united behind a single goal, above all else: to restore America's dominance in international basketball. To take our game back. When some of the players ran over to the broadcast booth after the game to shake hands with Mike Breen and Doug Collins, they did it because those are American announcers, and so dadgummit, they're apart of this redemption, too. And when they played our national anthem during the medal presentation, it really did seem meaningful to them.

And since they took it so seriously, so did I.

It all seemed so familial, and I felt like part of the family. It seemed so much like a brotherhood, and I felt like one of the brothers. It was all so patriotic, and I was glad to be an American.

Dream Team? Maybe not. A team this country can be proud of? Absolutely.

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