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Olympic Kudos and Controversies

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Check out the Aussie Uni's!!!

USA Basketball started out with a bang this morning (or evening, if you're in Beijing), with the women handing out a 40 point drubbing to the Czech Republic, 97-57. Comparatively, the ladies have probably have an equal or greater chance to win hoops gold than the men, given that only Australia and Russia seem to have any chance at being competitive. Russia struggled mightily against Latvia today, but the Aussies with Lauren Jackson--and fascinating, skin tight uniforms--should give USA a run for their money. They gave a whupping to Belarus in their first game as well, 83-64.

Kudos to NBC and in my case DirecTV for the way the Olympics are being broadcast. Dedicating a multitude of channels to the different competitions, and providing an interactive menu for me to select a contest of my choosing has truly enhanced my user experience. This morning I was able to watch raw feeds of both USA and Russia in their respective games, with no commercials. During the timeouts, they merely put together replay packages of the last few minutes, while music was being played at the venue. An occasional stat or graphic would appear to explain what had transpired to date, but for the most part it's a very clean, organized and gorgeous way to watch the games.

What wasn't particularly nice in my view was Craig Sager's interview of Becky Hammon, the WBNA All-Star point guard who happens to be playing for the Russian squad. She and the Clippers Chris Kaman are the two Americans who are playing under different flags--Russia and Germany respectively--but only Kaman has any particular ancestory with Germany. That has ruffled a few feathers, and Sager--on loan from Turner Sports, and dressed down from his usual loud and garish attire--decided to go Jim Gray on Hammon, questioning her patriotism with questions like how she felt watching the USA team walk into the Olympic stadium during the opening ceremonies. During a short interview with Diane Taurasi after the USA blow out, apparently Sager hadn't had enough of trying to stir the pot, asking Taurasi how she felt about Hammon's decision to play with the nation formerly known as the Red Menace. I can only imagine when the men's hoops start up, Sager will be looking for an interview with Kaman to question his loyalty as well. During the raw feed, one could hear both Mike Breen and Ann Meyers-Drysdale compliment Sager on his line of questioning, especially the opening ceremonies question. 

While one question regarding the "controversy" is legitimate, to repeatedly ask the same question over and over again borders on jingoism. The Olympics--and sports in general--have morphed into something much different than what I certainly grew up with. With the whole effort to globalize basketball, it would be silly to think that some athletes wouldn't want to find a way to compete on a Olympic stage, especially when their home countries have no interest in their services. Mercenary? Maybe, but ever since the decision to let professionals compete in the Olympics was made, Pandora's box was opened. FIBA rules prevent a wholesale shift of players changing allegences at will; Hammon and Kaman took advantage of the fact they hadn't played in international competition before. In the end however, isn't the Olympics still about the best athletes on the planet competing? If Kaman and Hammon want to try and find a spot on that stage, is it really any of our business if they make it? Don't we have bigger issues to worry about than who's playing on who's team?

Kevin Hench via Fox Sports provides more background on the subject, including USA Women's hoops coach Anne Donovan's reaction to the issue. Of course, being Fox, the conclusions Hench comes to are predictable, but it's worth a read, especially if you think folks like Hammon and Kaman are in the wrong. I don't, but I'd be interested to hear what others think about all of this.