Basketball: Lithuania Beats the American Olympic Team

22hoops.1841Athens, August 21.  The Lithuanian basketball team
beat the US, 94 to 90.
I am not a huge basketball fan, but as a returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Lithuania, 95-97) the result made me smile.  Basketball is a sacred sport in Lithuania.  Vaidas Paulauskas, a student, usually quiet during classes that stressed English conversation, always chatted me up after school about the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan.  He’d go onto remind me that Lithuania’s best, then Marciulionis and Sabonis, played in the US. Lithuania is a small nation of 4 million, but its presence looms large in basketball circles.

For most of the 20th century Lithuania was caught up in global power plays–falling under Russian, German, and then Soviet domination.   (The Soviets were kind enough to co-opt the best Lithuanian basketball players for their Olympic team before Lithuania broke free in 1991.)  Nevertheless, it’s not often that a small country goes up against the legendary American dream team and wins.  Yesterday, in beating the US, Lithuania showed that passion, practice and persistence can take down a giant.

As an American, I’m a little embarrassed that we’re getting trounced in a sport that we invented and where athletes command multi-million dollar salaries.   As a returned Peace Corps Volunteer, I am overjoyed for my adopted country.  In America, we expect to dominate.  This reversal, an object lesson in hubris, is refreshing–if fleeting.   My guess is the Americans will be more focused in the finals, but I’ll still be rooting for Lithuania. 

One thought on “Basketball: Lithuania Beats the American Olympic Team

  1. J. Phantastic

    During the Olympics had a poll which asked if you were (a) rooting for the U.S. Men’s basketball team; (b) rooting against the U.S. Men’s basketball team; or (c) rooting strongly against the U.S. Men’s basketball team. If I can recall, those rooting for the team were in the minority. Have you ever heard of an Olympic team that didn’t have the full support of their people back home?
    Last time I checked, being selected to compete in the Olympics was an honor. But for whatever reason, quite a few of the multi-millionaire players invited to become part of the team declined. I heard reports that the Olympics were secondary to the NBA season and thus a distraction of sorts for some of the players. I think there were only two elite/established players–Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson–on the squad. The rest were all rookies, sophomores, and other players who have yet to become known among the best. What happened to Kobe, Shaq, Kevin Garnett, Jason Kidd, Tracy McGrady…? (Other reports indicated that some of the players declining the offer were concerned about their safety in Greece with respect to possible terrorist acts.)
    The Dream Team seems to have acquired a reputation for being multi-millionaire divas. I don’t know if this was true, but I heard the Men’s basketball team didn’t stay in the Olympic Village with all the other (mostly amateur) athletes but on some luxury boat in some secluded spot. That they got beaten during the Games and sometimes lost in embarassing fashion brought satisfaction to alot of people. The players themselves were hurt by this. But I wonder if the reputation of Men’s basketball is also tied to the ugly stereotype that Americans have abroad, as typified by George W. Bush: swaggering and arrogant. There’s alot of resentment toward the U.S., made worse since the invasion of Iraq, and maybe the Men’s basketball team bore some of this during the Olympic Games.
    I’m not a flag-burning liberal, but I, an American citizen born in the U.S.A., for the most part did not root for the U.S. during these Games. Being of Asian descent, I found myself rooting for the Chinese gymnasts and divers; and I was thrilled when the Japanese swimmer beat the sulking American in one of the relays. I also rooted for France (who had the balls to oppose Bush’s war), and the Olympics-host Greece, and Brazil. I rooted for the Iraqi Men’s soccer team, and especially the athletes of small, poverty stricken countries. Those places appreciate what the Olympics represent, and deserve something positive. And the U.S. Men’s basketball team? Losing the tournament was the best thing that could have happened for them.


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