Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Don't Confuse Team USA's Great Performance with Running Up the Score

Team USA was accused of running up the score in a 156-73 win against Nigeria (Bleacher Report)

Lopsided was an understatement.

It was domination, a clinic or whatever colorful phrase you wish to call it.

The USA basketball team defeated Nigeria 156-73 in the fourth game of pool play, which some called unsportsmanlike. Team USA was accused of running up the score, embarrassing their opponent. When the U.S. began to run away from Argentina, ultimately winning 126-97 in the final game of pool play, Argentina showed their anger in the form of cheap fouls.

This topic is popular mainly in high school and college sports. Overmatched teams getting overrun until the final whistle saves them from the torture.

But in the Olympics?

These are the world’s best athletes who have earned the rights to be there. For some it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and for a lucky few, they will return with multiple chances for gold.

The Olympics ask for the best of the athletes competing. This competition isn’t for those who don’t give their full effort. Olympic and world records hang over athletes like pinatas, waiting to be broken. With the 156-73 stomping of Nigeria, Team USA broke the Olympic record for points in a game, win margin, 3-point shots made in a game and, individually, Carmelo Anthony scored the most points in an Olympic game by an American. Yes, it was a night to forget for Nigeria, but isn’t that the kind of performance we want to see from Team USA?

This wasn’t running up the score. It was a just a good game where every player was on. Team USA wasn’t running a full-court press, trying to steal every pass and get easy fast-break points. They were shooting 3s and long 2-point shots, which were supposed to be lower-percentage shots, but they just happened to go in. Was Anthony Davis just not supposed to dunk when he was on the receiving end of multiple wide-open alley-oops? Was Anthony supposed to aim his open 3s at side of the backboard? The Americans shot 71 percent from the field and 63 percent from 3-point range. It was just their night.  

Michael Phelps doesn’t slow down from world-record pace just because the swimmer in second is 50m behind. Usain Bolt doesn’t care how far back his fellow racers are, and has even been known to turn around before the finish line to taunt his competition. That’s what we love. We love watching great athletes do great things.

The opposite end of the topic includes the news of the Olympic badminton scandal, where teams were losing on purpose to get a better seeding. Kids are taught to do their best and try their hardest, and it is disappointing to the fans and opposing team to know a team won only because the competition blew the game on purpose. So couldn’t this be worse? Should we be worried about a team breaking an Olympic record when teams are showing much less sportsmanship and class by throwing matches?

I understand the Olympics continue to push sportsmanship and integrity in the sporting events, which it should. But sportsmanship wasn’t in question with Team USA. Maybe the USA was running up the score if Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durant would have played the entire game, but LeBron and Kobe played just 11 minutes a piece, a no starter played more than Chris Paul's 22 minutes.

Why wouldn’t this team want to break an Olympic record when given the chance, not knowing if that opportunity will again become available? Team USA wasn’t taunting or keeping starters in the game. The USA didn’t pressure on defense or try to draw fouls. They simply made shots, which they should not be faulted for.

Team USA just happened to have a great game where every shot was going in. Let’s not blame them for this as if it is a bad thing, because I know viewers around the world enjoyed watching the performance, and instead appreciate the spectacle that no other team in Olympic history has accomplished.

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