I like basketball. I play it when I can. I've been a fan for a long, long time. But something it's still a bit strange to see the absolute wall-to-wall, bounce by bounce coverage of the U.S. basketball team at the Olympics. My theory is that it reveals something about American attitudes - let me share this shocking revelation: People in the U.S. love a winner.
Many Americans are not interested in the noblesse of suffering along with their team(Cubs fans perhaps excepted). They want to bet on the winner, the sure thing, the favorite. At the Belmont this past year, there wasn't frenzied cheering when the upstart longshot won. That's because almost everybody had bet on Big Brown.
Now, I know that USA Basketball has fallen on some hard times recently, but the team is always going to be one of the top contenders for gold. I also realize that part of the attraction for coverage is the fact that there are marquee names like Kobe and LeBron involved.
Still, the daily reports, the updated practice quotes, the breathless minute-by-minute of yet another pre-Olympic triumph, the measuring of who sweat how much every game - it's getting to be a bit much.
I guess I don't really understand the thrill of watching an almost-sure-thing unfold. Isn't it more exciting when the degree of uncertainty is raised?
For example, will the U.S. men's soccer team even score a goal? That's a big unknown.
Some of the win-win thinking transfers to those who follow league play, too. I've talked to friends who are fans of soccer leagues in other countries (Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, England, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, etc) and more than a few of them complain that MLS is too competitive. They want to root for an underdog or a top dog and they can't really decide which is which.
For example, one guy asked me earlier this season how many league titles the Revolution have won. Well, that answer is infamous, but does it really make the Revs underdogs? Underachievers? Or does their excellent record year to year in the face of challenges make them overachievers?
In terms of number of titles, well, DC United lay a big claim there, but is that almost like Uruguay winning early World Cup victories? Almost all those DC wins came when the rest of the league was still finding its footing. Are the Dynamo the true dynasty now?
Every season, these questions and more are debated and perhaps even answered.
At some point, however, there's going to be a shift in the way things are structured, though. It's not just some fans who want winners - some owners want the leeway to bring impact players in without always bumping up against league restrictions. That will probably lead to less parity. Fair is a relative concept of course, because some would argue it's unfair to have a willing spender be denied by a league cap that more thrifty owners are fine with.