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SAN ANTONIO — The 2008 Olympics have finally concluded with closing ceremonies on Sunday and by the end of the event, there have been some extraordinary back-stories that have come forth.
Story lines such as the risk of injury to NBA players, unsportsmanlike conduct in a sport like Tae Kwon Do and still misguided application of what is the difference between Olympic opportunity and civic patriotism abound.
We still have preconceived notions that federations will cheat to no ends and that little known sports like BMX racing have somehow become a part of the Olympic aristocracy.
With the conclusion of the Olympics we as sports fans have a lot to digest before 2012 but do we truly understand the issues that have come forth? Let’s just take a look at a few and see.
To begin our exploration, let’s take a look back at how one American athlete has been vilified by her peers while another one barely got noticed. Of course I am talking about basketball and more importantly I am talking about Becky Hammon and J.R. Holden.
Hammon’s story began way back in April when she decided she was going to play for Russia and her backlash from Team USA and some of her peers is well documented. But nothing became so personal as when four time Olympian Lisa Leslie said that she didn’t speak to Becky before their semi-final match up.
Now maybe that’s just Leslie’s way of being competitive but there have been much criticism about Hammon’s jump at an Olympic opportunity.
The question however is, was she wrong in doing so?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Holden, who is African American and born in Pittsburgh, has caught a little bit of flack for his own decision, but not nearly as much as what Hammon caught.
Let’s face it. When Jay Mariotti actually makes you the focal point of an op/ed piece in the Chicago Sun-Times, you’ve made it to the big leagues.
But are they defectors because even though they were not good enough to make Team USA, they should have never been in the Olympics or did these two players and players like them simply see an opportunity and went for it?
It’s an opportunity that was presented and it was nothing but that considering that Leslie has been allowed to be on four Olympic teams.
Think about it for a minute. Leslie has been on four Olympic gold medal teams. How many professional basketball players can say that they even been on one, let alone four?
That is four opportunities that she had to be an Olympian. Ask yourself how many other women basketball players would have loved to be in that position?
So the question to ask is whether Hammon played and got bronze by an opportunity and Leslie got her gold because of her patriotism.
I wonder if Michael Phelps was of Norwegian descent and got his eight gold medals for Norway would people think he was un-American in doing so.
It’s just a thought.
While we’re on basketball, let’s talk about injuries and NBA players.
The question is this: should the NBA now ban ALL players from playing in the Olympics?
Case in point? Manu Ginobli.
Ginobli injured his right ankle in the first quarter of the semi-final game between Argentina and the United States. It was the same ankle that hobbled him during this past season’s playoffs for the San Antonio Spurs and the Spurs were very worried about him playing in the Olympics with that injury.
Now with the ankle re-injured, there is no time table as to when Manu will be back for the Spurs this season as he may have to have surgery to repair whatever damage it has sustained.
Manu is an international basketball star who plays in the NBA but what would you say if let’s say LeBron James or Kobe Bryant got hurt during those games? How upset do you think the Cleveland Cavaliers or Los Angeles Lakers would be?
If a marquee player from Team USA got injured would David Stern be saying something to Jerry Colangelo and USA Basketball?
Injuries could happen anywhere but what seems to be a common thread is that somehow, at least on the men’s side of the roundball game, the best players for Team USA are NBA players.
In actuality I think that maybe, just maybe the NBA may want to re-think this partnership.
We’re talking millions of dollars on the floor at any given time when the Olympics are in effect and why should the league be subjecting its employees to potential health risks?
However the alternative of using maybe American players who are in the Euro leagues has never picked up any momentum and it may be very difficult to tell someone like Manu, let along King James or Carmelo Anthony, that because they are a part of the NBA they cannot play for their country.
The backlash of such a referendum would be probably earthy shattering to say the least.
Yet it is something to think about as well before 2012.
If there is any sporting event that should exude sportsmanship, it’s Tae Kwon Do and there is no bigger stage for that martial art to be displayed than at the Olympics.
Yet when Angel Matos kicked a Swedish referee in the face over his lost, Matos instantly became the poster child for what is wrong with athletes today.
Fidel Castro defended the Cuban martial artist and that should be nothing new but Matos actions were unconscionable in a sport that demands respect and dignity in both winning and losing.
Whether Matos took too long during an injury time out could be debated but his actions afterwards cannot. The World Tae Kwon Do Federation banned him and his coach for life and that is the only saving thing about the sordid affair; somebody took action.
Finally when it comes to what makes an Olympic sport, it is hard to believe that baseball and softball will no longer be in the games but BMX racing is.
BMX racing? Since when did this become the X Games on a world stage?
It is a travesty that probably two world sports like baseball and softball leave because the governing bodies that voted on the measure didn’t realize what they were voting on.
It’s also a travesty that hundreds of baseball and softball players may never get the opportunity experience the Olympic dream as the crowning moment of their sports careers.
But BMX racing?
We’re talking about a fad of the 1980s that got its resurgence from an ESPN product.
These are just some of the back-stories that have come out of this year’s Olympics. It’s just curious to see if the sports world has learned from them or if they have just been glossed over.