Is it just me or is it wrong to see LeBron James and Kobe Bryant feasting on no-name amateurs at the Olympic Games?
LeBron and Kobe have been playing professionally in the NBA for years. They’ve made millions and millions of dollars. They’ve achieved fame and fortune most athletes, let alone amateur athletes, could only dream of. Why do they need to punctuate their stardom by winning gold medals against college-level players at the Olympics?
On Sunday, the Americans thumped the French 98-71 in their opening game at the London Games. On Tuesday, they go up against Tunisia and their best player, 5-foot-10 guard Marouan Kechrid. Who? That’s right. It’ll be a slaughter.
These millionaire players have no place walking side-by-side with amateur athletes who have had to struggle and toil their whole lives just to make it to the Games, whose names and faces will return to obscurity when it’s all over.
FIBA, international basketball’s governing body, first allowed professional players to participate in the Olympics in 1992, when Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and the Dream Team swept the competition en route to gold at the Barcelona Games. Team USA has won four of five golds in men’s basketball since professionals were allowed to participate.
The thing is, the U.S. was dominant before pros were allowed to play. Since 1936, they’d won nine golds, one silver and one bronze in the sport. Clearly, the Americans are the world’s best basketball players. We don’t need Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Andrew Iguodala slamming over Tunisians to drive the point home.
Let’s face it – it’s no fun watching the Americans humiliate everyone. There’s no Olympic spirit in that.
What made the 1980 Miracle on Ice hockey team great? That they were a bunch of amateurs that no one expected to contend, who shocked the world by beating the high-powered Russians and Czechs to capture the gold. With all the Dream Teams of professional players, that mystique is gone – in basketball, hockey, even tennis and curling. The only miracles left are for their opponents, like when Argentina shocked the Americans in the semifinals of the 2004 Games on their way to winning the gold medal.
While it’s probably impossible to put the genie back in the bottle in terms of professionals at the Games, soccer has already started limiting the age of Olympic players to 23, and it’s something the IOC and international governing bodies should do as well.
If the age limit was 23, we’d be treated to the best young players each country has to offer – college players and young pros (hopefully) unstained by the spoils of fame. The next generation of stars, playing on the biggest stage against comparable competition from around the world. The awe of the spectacle would be back. The miracles would be back.
Of course, not everyone is supportive of the idea.
“It’s a stupid idea,” Bryant said about the age limit idea prior to the Games. “The Olympics is really about putting the best athletes out there to compete against the best. From a basketball standpoint, it would lessen the Olympics, absolutely.”
Is he saying that a team of college all-stars couldn’t beat France or Tunisia, let alone Lithuania, Argentina or Spain? I’m sure a lot of those players – who are being shut out of their opportunity to participate in the Games because Kobe and his pals are there – would be willing to argue that point.
Despite the professional era of the Olympics, plenty of amateur teams and athletes have won medals based on hard work, determination and commitment. It’s what makes the Olympics a great, unique event.
For professional players like LeBron and Kobe, the Olympic Games are just another stat in their Hall of Fame credentials. It’s time for them to step aside and let the amateurs return to their rightful place on centre stage.