Was it just me or did anyone else notice the similarities to the 2004 Olympic men’s basketball team that famously flamed out and was derided for being selfish, lazy and arrogant millionaires who couldn’t play together.
At least they came home with a bronze.
While playing in the easiest bracket, on American soil, and enjoying a couple of favorable calls from umpire Bob Davidson, the U.S. delivered bupkas. Nada. Nothing. Zilch.
Our surprising lack of patriotic pride seems a little strange considering we darn near deported George Karl, Paul Pierce and Baron Davis to Fiji when Team USA finished a disappointing sixth at the 2002 World Championships of Basketball in Indianapolis.
Yet, nobody rips Roger Clemens, who was far from great in what might have been his last appearance on the mound.
Manager Buck Martinez has apparently gotten a pass, even though the Americans went 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position and pushed across just one run in an elimination game.
Two years ago, Kansas City Star columnist Jason Whitlock wrote a piece for ESPN.com, which suggested American fans and media unfairly treated the ’04 men’s basketball team because of the color of their skin.
Whitlock wrote: “There’s a lot of convenient denial going on. No one wants to deal with the truth because they’re having too much fun blasting a bunch of black millionaires for being lazy, unpatriotic and stupid.”
While thought provoking, I didn’t put much stock into Whitlock’s opinion at the time, perhaps believing that we’d made significant advances as a society since Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier.
Two occurrences in the past two months have caused me to re-think my position.
The U.S. men’s hockey team, filled with NHL superstars, goes 1-4-1 at the Turin Olympics and hardly a peep gets mentioned. But then, it’s hockey for crying out loud, and we don’t lose much sleep over hockey in this country.
OK, maybe pucks on ice falls far below the sports radar, but baseball is the national pastime. And if we’re honest, the U.S. team that lost its second game to Canada and should have lost to Japan, was outplayed in the tournament. And don’t give me these excuses about bad timing in the baseball schedule and how other countries take the WBC more seriously than we do.
The bottom line is, if you’re going to play, then if and when you lose, be prepared to be second guessed. The NBA players who have traveled abroad know this lesson far too well.
No one accused Derek Jeter of being an ugly American the way they ripped into Allen Iverson. Is it Iverson’s cornrows and tattoos that make him Public Enemy No. 1 while Jeter’s wholesome demeanor is far more palatable, or is it something else?
I’ll defend anyone’s right to cheer for whomever they please, but when dishing out harsh accusations and labeling our multi-millionaire athletes as spoiled and lazy, let’s at least be fair.
To which I can only reply, thanks to the efforts of Allen’s colleagues, the WBC’s credibility isn’t nearly as established in the minds of the general public. Were this the 7th or 8th incarnation of an international tournament the USA had consistently dominated, there would probably be greater outcry. I’ve not taken any polls or anything, but I suspect that amongst those following the build-up to the WBC, not everyone was convinced the USA would run away with it. What would the basketball equivalent of Al Leiter taking Billy Wagner’s roster spot in 2006 be?