J Walking

The “Miracle on Ice” is Beliefnet’s greatest sports miracle. There, in Lake Placid, a bunch of college kids and an unknown hockey coach beat the Soviet Union and the rest of the world and won gold in the Olympics.

In hindsight, the Soviet defeat foreshadowed their country’s decline and eventual destruction. Their core was hollow, it was inevitable.

As we researched that miracle and looked at other “miracles” a question begged answering: What is there to be said about the inability of US Men’s International Basketball teams to win in international basketball competition – a sport we once dominated just as much as the USSR once dominated hockey.

Since the US won gold in Sydney in 2000, no US men’s team has finished higher than third. Despite being comprised of multi-million dollar a year NBA professionals, we can’t win. These are supposed to be the best of the best, the “dream teams.” Yet in the 2002 world championships we were sixth (behind everyone from Yugoslavia to New Zealand). In the 2004 Olympics, the men’s team was third (behind Argentina and Italy). Last year, the US finished third again in the world championships in Japan (behind Spain and Greece).

Does the US’ inability to win in international men’s basketball competition suggest something about the state of our country as Lake Placid suggested something about the USSR?

Certainly the US is unlikely to disintegrate any time in the near or distant future. Our economy is fundamentally strong. Our freedoms are unparalleled. And I am probably reading far too much into this.

But maybe not. Maybe means something more than that our basketball skills have weakened vis-a-vis the rest of the world. Perhaps it is that our wealth and our comfort have made us a bit complacent, a bit fat, a bit lazy and unless those things are addressed America won’t be as strong as it used to be. Perhaps it is that our collective spiritual soul is weak as well and that we haven’t the will we once did and basketball is giving us a glimpse of that.

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