US Olympic Basketball: Mark Cuban's Correct Call on NBA Players
Mark Cuban is, in one breath, so many diverse things. Wealthy. Petulant. Passionate. Verbose. Opinionated. Ego maniacal. Playful. Arrogant.
To fans of the Dallas Mavericks, he is an exasperating monument to an undying desire to win and an unfathomable need to meddle. Shake your head at his methods, but also prepare to shake that NBA Title banner he is dedicated to bringing home.
Many NBA suits see him as someone they painfully must endure, having to put up with his endless infantile antics including that annoying need to see and be seen at his team's home games. More than one stuffed shirt would love nothing more than to see him banished from ownership for no other reason than for his intolerable habit of wearing sweat shirts and unkempt hair in public.
"How dare he lessen the public opinion of an NBA owner," they mutter to themselves. Said muttering performed as they allowed misogynistic head coaches to leer after front office employees or perform underhanded legerdemain in spiriting a franchise away from a loyal fan base. How dare he, indeed.
Mark Cuban can be defined by so many positive and negative words, but when it comes to the Beijing Games "L'Enfant terrible" has added to those definitions as an insightful rebel. He is correct and dead-on in his flash point comments about NBA players and their participation in the Summer Olympics.
Anyone who claims NBA players are taking part in the Olympics as their donation to national pride and the American way of life would be better served working as a tour guide at any one of our fantasy-based theme parks. Matter of fact, they would be the prefect greeter for the "NBA City" restaurant at Universal Studios in Orlando, spewing the corporate swill about supporting our American players as they show the rest of the world how dominating we are at the American game.
The American game is undergoing a not so quiet metamorphosis thanks to players from Latvia, Serbia, South America and that far-flung and mysterious land known as "Canada."
They are the athletes who still practice those ancient concepts of team play, fundamentals, how to make a free throw, and not needing to know where the camera is in deciding which lane to use for that new dunk move. However, I digress.
This jingoistic call to arms began it's fraudulent public run with the 1992 "Dream Team," featuring Bird, Magic, Michael, Patrick, "The Mailman," "Clyde the Glide," "The Admiral," "The Round Mound of Rebound," and others who likely believed they were performing on the world's greatest stage to return pride and glory to America. This was and remains, of course, a tidy lie.
In 1988 there was no shortage of red-faces in the US hoops community following the disastrous, nightmarish, unthinkable embarrassment that every red-blooded American was forced to endure.
The US Olympics Men's Basketball team not only fell to those hated Communists from Russia, but had to save what little face remained by pounding a pitiful band of players still earning their basketball training wheels from Australia. Oh, the humanity.
Determined to return American basketball pride to the Olympics no matter the cost, those who rule over everything James Naismith helped to make sacrosanct resolved to correct this evidence that America was showing her softer side. Rectification began with what has become the cornerstone of those nations seeking a return to domination.
Under the table dealings. Pressure from sponsors with cash to incinerate. Concocted media tales about national pride. Sleight of hand, mouth, and wallet. Claims of righting international wrongs. Endorsement contracts. Fat global television contracts and ratings. Little stuffed toys with a copyrighted logos stitched on the front.
We certainly were not and to this day are not the originators of such ideals. But dammit, we were going to show no one puts it all together like we do.
Few thought the timing interesting when in 1989 the FIBA, the world governing body for basketball, changed their rule permitting NBA players to take part in the Olympics. Merely a coincidence it nipped at the heels of that US loss so many in the American hoops community were still flagellating themselves over. This was not about seeking revenge mind you, this was about leveling the playing field.
The nagging fact that this playing field was leveled just fine after a US Gold medal in 1976 had nothing to do with this decision. Nor did the 1980 Moscow Games boycott where we joined many a nation in abstaining from lending credence to competition held under a Communist moon cause a change.
And in 1984 when those damned Russkies organized their Commie brethren into boycotting our games in LA, we went ahead and pounded our way to another Olympic Gold and the playing field was just fine.
But come 1988 it was obvious that our college players were babes in the basketball woods being run over and pummeled by those sneaky professionals from nations taking advantage of the "Olympic ideal." We were given a moral mandate to make things right for every free nation around the world. After all, this was about national pride and had nothing to do with anything involving mere filthy lucre.
This was not about expanding the (American owned) NBA global sphere of influence. Certainly not. That would smack in the face of providing all those fresh-faced American boys and girls a chance to revel in the chance to be clad head to toe in red, white and blue. And green.
This was not about multi-million dollar guaranteed contracts. International draft rights. Global television contracts. Jersey sales in China. Sneaker revenue in Brazil. Higher ticket prices. Having the clout to make anything and everything disappear with a magical wave of the shooting hand, even if the impossible happens and one of our referees over-extends himself with a local bookie and has to shave a few points off a game here and there. Absolutely not.
It's almost surreal to realize that Mark Cuban is the one speaking up about this laughable and criminal misuse of the phrase "national pride."
Isn't he just this goofy guy who used to be a computer nerd? Isn't he that nut job sticking his tongue out at television cameras while besmirching the good name of team owners everywhere? Isn't this the loudmouth who will be remembered for helping to push more pablum TV entertainment at the lemmings-like US audience while wearing dancing shoes?
One and the same. And the only one speaking from an insider's position of authority and knowledge of what makes this machine tick. The only one willing to stick that tongue out and bite the hand that feeds him. The only member of the NBA hierarchy pointing out what no one else has the guts to say.
There are a number of basketball players, college and pro alike, who truly and honestly want to represent this country and bask in the glow of international competition. Who deep down would cherish that little piece of gold on a string. Who would compete with nary a thought of money to be made from endorsing that new line of male-enhancement products.
But who realize that like any competition, they must play by the rules crafted by those in charge.
Even if those rules include transparent lies and make a mockery of what should truly be national pride.
Ed Berliner has been covering and commenting on sports for TV and radio networks for over 25 years while managing to avoid both gray hair and happy talk with news anchors. His comments can be read here at "The Bleacher Report", while interviews with national & regional sports reporters and commentators can be heard exclusively at www.speedingbulletnetwork.com.
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