Could an Olympian ideal lie within the "Dream Team" after all?
When it was announced three years ago that professional basketball players would be allowed to compete in the Olympics, some sports fans were outraged at the thought. The modern Olympics -- in theory at least -- had been a showcase for amateur athletes, particularly for the Americans.
Who had heard of Mary Lou Retton, Peggy Fleming, Cassius Clay before their dazzling feats in the games? The quadrennial worldwide spectacle continued to captivate us because it made heroes of people of whom we'd never heard before; these athletes trained dawn-to-dusk for years in anonymity for a moment in time when the pressure upon them was so great we spectators even felt the tremors deep in ourselves. How could we evoke such empathy and passion for a dozen marquee basketball pros already earning millions of dollars and adored by millions of fans? How could these accomplished stars themselves take it seriously?
And yet during the recent Tournament of the Americas, in which the U.S. team blitzed the competition to qualify formally for the upcoming Olympics in Spain, a glimmer of the Olympian ideal may have emerged. The emotion of competing for one's countrymen washed over even these superstars.
Earvin "Magic" Johnson told of waking at 5:30 a.m. with excitement about playing in the tournament's opener that evening. A team assistant, respected college coach P.J. Carlisemo, said he got chills just watching Magic Johnson and Larry Bird play together in the twilight of their storied careers. The lone college player on the team, Christian Laettner, gushed that the experience for him has been "about so much more than playing basketball." Team members marveled at how close they had become as a unit after just a week together.
Yes, this "Dream Team" is so embarrassingly good that doomed opponents ask to have their photos taken with it during pre-game warm-ups.
Maybe this isn't what Frenchman Baron de Coubertin envisaged when he revived the Olympiad in 1896, thousands of years after the Greeks began the games. But if the emotionalism and grandeur of competing in this worldwide event can awe athletes this accomplished, what could be a greater measure of the power of these Olympics?