I want to get excited for the Olympics. Every two years, we have two weeks of the best athletes with the best origin stories (Olympic packages make every story seem epic) that allow us to disconnect from the day to day. This year it’s difficult to get excited for the Olympics.
Two of the stories dominating both traditional media and sports media involve the Olympics. One is intriguing and full of potential conflicts. North Korea and South Korea marching under the same flag sounds great until you remember the US military has moved more firepower to the region and, you know, Twitter exists.
The other story is incredibly depressing. Larry Nassar, the team doctor for USA Gymnastics, is in the midst of a sentencing hearing on charges of first degree criminal sexual conduct with children under the age of 16. Each day another horrible aspect comes to light.
In spite of a potential World War 3 and more opportunities for coaches to abuse their positions of power, the games will go on. And I’m trying to remind myself why the Olympics are fun. So I’m reading about the Dream Team.
The best players in the NBA (and one college player) assembled to play in the 1992 Summer Olympics. The Dream Team, led by Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and featuring 10 of the other best basketball players of all time, the most talented team ever, made basketball a world sport. Though it was obvious why this would work out well for everyone involved, some were against it.
Before 1992, the Olympics didn’t allow professional athletes from America to participate in the games. NBA players were prohibited but players from other leagues were allowed. NBA meant pro, European leagues meant amateur. This led to the best basketball country losing to inferior countries. In 1988 the Soviet Union won gold, Yugoslavia took silver and the USA were rewarded bronze. In other words, the country with the best basketball players lost to a majority of guys that never made it to the best basketball league in the world. (The Soviet Union’s Aleksandr Volkov, Šarūnas Marčiulionis and Arvydas Sabonis made it to the NBA but didn’t make an impact. Yugoslavia’s Dražen Petrović, Toni Kukoč and Vlade Divac were good NBA players but none were nearly as important to the game as USA’s David Robinson.)
Though the rules were inherently unfair, punishing NBA players, some didn’t want to allow American pros to play. Tradition was the argument. Arbitrary tradition. Other leagues were allowed to participate. Somehow, that tradition was preferred by a minority.
Once the games began and the Dream Team dominated, some complained they were too good. The U.S. went from living below expectations to too good.
At the end of the Olympics, the arguments against the Dream Team didn’t matter. They won the gold and helped catapult the game of basketball. Competition got better in the NBA and the Olympics, the sport became more international and fans are still reaping the rewards.
Did you know some people referred to the Dream Team as the Dreamers? They did! Did you know we’re in the midst of an argument about the future of over a half million people that are also referred to as Dreamers? What a coincidence!
On March 5 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is scheduled to end. Without a deal, 700,000 people may be deported.
According to a recent CBS News poll, 70% of America favors allowing Dreamers, those protected under DACA, to be allowed to stay in the U.S. Seems like the majority of Americans are cool with living with people that may have a different background than them because that’s the point of the U.S.
Are the same people against DACA the same people that were against the Dream Team? Yes? No? There’s absolutely no way to prove the overlapping support of DACA and the Dream Team. But we can examine why anyone would be against the inevitable.
Am I comparing the 1992 U.S. Basketball Dream Team to Dreamers simply because the word dream appears in both titles? It started that way but there are more parallels.
Fear of the game’s future prevented some from seeing the benefits of a sporting contest that didn’t arbitrarily keep out some of the best and brightest.
In Jack McCallum’s 2012 book Dream Team: How Michael, Magic, Larry, Charles and The Greatest Team of All Time Conquered the World and Changed the Game of Basketball Forever, McCallum documents the state of the NBA in the 80s:
“The perfection was that the NBA was mismanaged, too many African Americans, too many drug accusations, too many teams are going out of business,” [Golden State Warriors President & Chief Operating Officer Rick] Welts told me in 2011.
In the summer of 2015, Trump kicked off his campaign with this memorable quote:
When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
Is this an oversimplified explanation for a nuanced issue? Probably. But basketball will one day be America’s sport and the Dreamers had a lot to do with its popularity.
Here’s a Nike Dream Team commercial that features an animated Charles Barkley screaming while roses are thrown at him. This should take your mind off of war, abuse and fear of the other. We could all learn a lot from Sir Charles.