Exit 118. Game on.

As I’m sitting here, I’m watching the Olympics on TV.  Right now men’s volleyball is on.

I grew up in a family where sports was a big deal, to the point that I did not realize that there was such a thing as someone who didn’t follow sports until I was around 20.  The TV was pretty much always on in our house growing up, and during the Olympics, we’d usually watch whatever Olympic sport was on.  My earliest memory of the Olympics was the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, shortly before my eighth birthday.  This is the closest that I have ever lived to an Olympic Games at the time that they were happening; my childhood home is 308 miles from Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.  (The distance from my current home to the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, near Lake Tahoe and Reno, is closer than that, but I was not yet born in 1960.)  I remember going to watch the torch relay as it passed through my neighborhood, just a few minutes’ walk from home, and I remember a lot of people going on and on about some gymnast named Mary Lou Retton, but all these years later I don’t have any particularly strong memories of any of her performances.

I remember things here and there about the other Olympics of my lifetime.  Greg Louganis bleeding into the diving pool in Seoul in 1988, and it was only discovered later that he was HIV positive.  MacGyvering an antenna for the TV cart in my math classroom in 1992, with the teacher’s permission, so we could watch the USA ice hockey team lose badly to the Unified Team (i.e, the former Soviet Union nations, since they had just broken up and did not have separate Olympic committees yet) in Albertville.  Watching Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, Chris Mullin, Larry Bird, and other NBA stars be allowed to compete in the Olympics for the first time in Barcelona in 1992, and rooting for them to lose.  (See Highway Pi #17 from 2014 for more information on why I was hoping they would lose – I’m not hoping the same for this year’s men’s basketball team.)  The Tonya Harding scandal in 1994 in Lillehammer (this was the year that the Olympic cycle changed so that Winter and Summer games would not be held in the same year.)  Kerri Strug doing gymnastics with a sprained ankle in 1996 in Atlanta.  My then-roommate, an avid snowboarder, being excited about snowboarding being in the Olympics for the first time in Nagano in 1998.  Wrestler Rulon Gardner winning a gold medal in Sydney in 2000, then appearing on a special episode of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire featuring all Olympic athletes, and not doing very well.  My memories of Salt Lake, Athens, and Turin are kind of fuzzy, but since 2008 I have a lot of Olympic memories again, most of which involve Michael Phelps in the summer and more heartbreaking losses for the USA men’s ice hockey team in the winter.

I think what I enjoy about the Olympics is a chance to get to watch sports that I don’t normally follow.  There is more out there than baseball, American football, basketball, and hockey, and I don’t have time to follow all the sports out there.  It is interesting to hear the announcers talk about the nations and cultures of the different competing athletes and teams.  And of course, there are so many of the kind of memories I described above, so many great feats of athleticism, so many shocking upsets (for example, as I wrote this, Canada defeated the USA in men’s volleyball, 3 sets to 0), and so many defining moments that millions of people remember.

So I’m looking forward to watching some different sports in the next couple weeks.  Game on.

Exit 17. Change one word, and the hypocrite is me.

Disclaimer: This week’s post is pretty much all about sports.  If you don’t like sports, I suggest you read it anyway, because there are some life lessons at the end.  If you don’t even like sports enough to get some life lessons, then please read any of my other 16 posts on this blog.  Maybe you’d rather read about geekbullying or a certain early 90s teen pop band or being an introvert.

During the recent 2014 soccer World Cup, as well as the 2010 World Cup, I remember reading a few Facebook posts from Americans who were actively rooting for Team USA to lose.  Now I’m not talking about people who have a loyalty to another country because of their ancestry, or because they lived there, or because they have a favorite player from that country.  I don’t have an inherent problem with that.  I see that as no different in principle from Vega* the Nice Ex, who grew up in Colorado and was a Broncos and Avs fan despite the fact that she lived in northern California when we were dating.  We never fought about that.  We never fought about anything, for that matter, which is why I refer to her in front of my friends who don’t know her as The Nice Ex.

(* Again, this is me using names of stars, planets, moons, etc. to refer to people from my past and present in an anonymous fashion.  The Nice Ex was not actually named Vega.)

But anyway, I’m talking about people who actively root for the Americans to lose, no matter who they are playing against, and who would not be happy if Team USA were to win the World Cup, simply because they don’t like aspects of American culture or politics, or they don’t like the way Team USA plays soccer.  You’re entitled to your opinions; this is America, after all, land of free speech.  And people with that last reason usually know more about soccer than I do.  But I’m entitled to my opinion too, and my opinion of those people is that they’re a bunch of jerks who are ungrateful for all the freedoms they have in this country, and if they hate America so much, maybe they should like move to North Korea or something.


There’s one serious problem with this view: Go back to that description, change one word, and the hypocrite who deserves to be deported is me.  Specifically, change “soccer” to “basketball.”

Before 1992, NBA players were not allowed to play in the FIBA Basketball World Cup or the Olympics.  Those two tournaments were historically intended for amateur players, and the decision to open them to NBA players was somewhat controversial at the time.  The 1992 USA men’s basketball team, nicknamed the Dream Team by the media, was widely hyped as being the best basketball team of all time, featuring such stars as Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, and Chris Mullin.  They went on to dominate the rest of the world in the Olympics.

I was a precocious 15-year-old during those Olympics, with an opinion on everything… specifically, an opinion that wasn’t always well formed.   I was a purist, and I felt that professionals didn’t belong in the Olympics.  And I was tired of the hype surrounding this team.  The final straw was when I read an article about how the warmup suits were manufactured by Reebok, and this was a problem because some of the players on the team were under contract with Nike and not allowed to wear clothing containing a logo of one of Nike’s competitors.  To me, this represented everything wrong with this setup… if the Olympics were kept pure, without NBA primae donnae, they wouldn’t have these money-driven sponsorship issues.  So I decided to root for the USA to lose.  I was going for Lithuania (even though they had a few NBA players too), because my dad liked Lithuania’s tie-dye practice jerseys, designed by the Grateful Dead.  Lithuania won bronze.

lithuania front 2008

(By the way, the Nike players ended up draping flags around their shoulders at the medal ceremonies to cover the Reebok logos.)  I can remember being actively anti-USA Basketball also in the 1996 Olympics.  After that, I was mostly just neutral toward Olympic basketball and the FIBA World Cup.

But this year is different.  This year, I have a reason to follow USA Basketball at the upcoming FIBA World Cup.  Since a year ago, I have had season tickets to the Sacramento Kings, and I attended 23 of their 44 home games last season.  This is a team that has been stuck in a quagmire of rebuilding, and last year was the first year that they were not also stuck in a quagmire of incompetent ownership.  Kings fans haven’t had much to be excited about over the last decade, but things are slowly, slowly starting to turn around.  And two members of this Kings team, DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay, will be playing for the USA at the FIBA World Cup.  (And, just as importantly when it comes to motivating me to want to root for this team: Kobe Bryant won’t be playing.)  After watching these two on the NBA court, I think the international experience will be good for them, and I’d like to see how they do.  Being out there with some of the best players of the game to represent their country is bigger than team rivalries and bigger than corporate sponsorships.

So I officially recant my former anti-USA Basketball position.  And I officially apologize to all the US Soccer haters.  You have your reasons, and I don’t agree with them, but I’m not going to judge you for it.  I haven’t walked in your shoes.

One more exhibition game Tuesday morning against Slovenia.  First game of the tournament Saturday afternoon against Finland.  Game on.