I Wish U.S.A. Basketball Had Lost in the Olympics

The magic of watching the Olympics is seeing new faces compete, and seasoned professionals just don't inspire the same awe.

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South Africa's Oscar Pistorius takes the baton from teammate L J van Zyl during the men's 4x400-meter during the athletics in the Olympic Stadium at the 2012 Summer Olympics, London, Friday, Aug. 10, 2012.

I will publicly acknowledge a somewhat petty, arguably un-Olympian attitude towards the XXX Games. I was obsessed with the idea of besting China in the medals count—both overall and among the gold medals—and I compulsively kept checking the web during the day, even knowing that looking would spoil the watching I planned to do that evening. And I'm thrilled that the U.S. athletes won more metal than any other country, including China, which I still suspect of cheating in gymnastics in 2008 and somewhat suspect of foul play this year.

Now, for another petty thought: I really sort of wish the American men's basketball team had lost.

They're good. They're really good, better than anyone else in the world. They should be: They're professionals. It's almost unfair to have other countries' teams (even ones with a few NBA players of their own) be forced to play against these seasoned and well-compensated pros. They're a wonder to watch—but in the same way it's amazing to watch a professional vocalist hit the high notes in a high-priced opera. It's not the same as watching a 15-year-old girl from Bethesda win a swimming gold medal. And it's certainly not the same as watching a South African runner with prosthetics on his feet round the track faster than almost anyone without a disability. Part of what's inspiring about the Olympics are the stories of how hard the amateur athletes worked to get there, the sacrifices they made to become the best at a sport. People earning millions to play basketball don't command that sort of awe.

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The players themselves seemed to lack a little humility, with one boasting that the current team could have beaten the legendary "Dream Team" of yore. Kudos to original Dream Teamer Larry Bird, whose response was that he certainly hoped the current pack of pros could beat the Dream Team, seeing as most of them hadn't played in 20 years.

They were apart, the men's basketball players—literally. They didn't sleep in the Olympic Village, instead staying at hotels. This apparently was because the beds weren't long enough for the tall athletes, but were the digs comfortable for 6'5” Jamaican runner Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world?

The Olympic Games are about excellence, and perhaps it's unfair to keep the most excellent players in basketball out of the contest. But why not do what they do in soccer—have an age limit? Men's Olympic soccer players can play until they're 23, with three slots per country reserved for older players.

We don't need NBA stars to attract viewers to the Olympics. The excitement of watching a country win its first gold, of watching a tiny 16-year-old gymnast flip around the uneven bars, even the new Cool Brittania displayed by Price Harry singing along to the Monty Python ditty, "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" at the closing ceremonies—these were enough to draw viewers. The pros get enough attention while they're earning pots of money per game in the NBA season. Let's leave the Olympics to the amateurs.

  • Read Mike Leven: What America Can Learn From the London 2012 Olympics
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