NBA, Olympics / Aug 9, 2012 / 5:00 pm

Team USA: Friends, Foes, Or Something Else?

Team USA

Team USA (photo. Nike)

Basketball players these days like each other, and former players scoff at such chumming. But not everyone on this year’s Team USA squad are friends. There’s Kobe Bryant, the old vet, Kevin Love, the self-described token white guy, LeBron James, the goofball leader, Anthony Davis, the pledge, and Andre Iguodala, the non-superstar role player who’s more effective than anyone’s willing to admit. It’s easy for such players to mesh rather quickly, if only because talents cures many ills.

Kobe Bryant recently proclaimed his basketball intellectual superiority, articulating that dividing line that their Twitter feeds have so endeavored to disguise. We’ve seen their sleeping photos and team meals, this mirage of team unity. On some level, they probably all like each other. As compared to their NBA teams, it’s probably a welcome change to be surrounded by talent and competence at every turn. But the Team USA pecking order, with LeBron James and Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant leading the way must be at least partially divisive.

Deron Williams just signed a max contract and was the No. 1 player on the 2012 free agent market, and he doesn’t even start. Anthony Davis was the AP Player of the Year, No. 1 overall pick and often not-so-ridiculously compared to Bill Russell; he doesn’t even play. Kevin Love was sixth in the league in MVP voting, and his playing time is spotty at best. There’s two counterfactual mindsets at work, and we’ve let them bleed into one incomplete amalgamation morphed at our convenience. There’s these great players, striving to be the best on their teams, the best in the NBA, and stopping at nothing to win championships and lead. But then there’s Team USA and the team concept, and they’re supposed to all of a sudden buy in to the concept.

Are they having fun on these non-basketball excursions, enjoying each other’s personal company? Sure, why not. But there has to be some element of resentment building. Take Clyde Drexler‘s bitter comments towards Magic Johnson. Even if they were taken out of context, Drexler was speaking towards a greater team sentiment – there’s competition within the competition of the Olympics, and it isn’t all about beating the living hell out of the rest of the world.

I won’t suppose to know much beyond these careful snapshots of happiness, and maybe I’m totally off base. But I’ll put my money on the emotional stress of team competition, the game within the game. I played basketball once, in my better days, and victory was always colored by my role in it. It’s hard to take pleasure from the end of the bench. On the professional level, “sacrificing for the team” is really sacrificing for the fans. Because while we’re all fans of certain players, our first allegiance is to the team. We ascribe this unwavering fealty to the players because it’s easier. Their journey is our journey, their pain our pain. We’re saavy enough to know that only the greats and financially satisfied veterans seek championships. The rest, well they’re hired mercenaries. And if they pick up a title along the way, so be it, because winning is only a cooperative corollary.

That’s what I think is going on here with Team USA. It’s two stars, an established veteran and a bunch of guys jockeying for worldwide respect – and it just so happens that their joint goal to dominate individually coincides with our joint goal to win Olympic gold.

Will Team USA win gold?

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