Like all great Americans, I suppose you've been keeping track of the process to select our Olympic basketball team that will travel to Korea in September and show the rest of the world that maybe we do have problems building good cheap economy cars, and maybe we do have a problem with a few of our television evangelists, and maybe we can't win Wimbledon anymore, but when it comes to Dr. James Naismith's invention we don't need any Star Wars defense.
To recap the selection process, here's what's happened so far:- Coach John Thompson, the czar of Georgetown, is named the U.S. head coach. He scours the country for the best aides possible and then surrounds himself with mostly Georgetown people, who proved their unswerving loyalty by getting Patrick Ewing through school.
- Thompson and staff hold camp for a hundred or so Olympic hopefuls in Colorado, where the media, with the exception of a couple of designated pool reporters, is denied access. Hoya paranoia has gone national.
- Thompson comments on Arvadis Sabonis, the 7-foot-2 Soviet star, coming to Portland to have his foot treated. He says it's a fulfillment of Marx's prophecy that the capitalists will sell the rope they hang themselves with. English/Russian translation: A healthy Sabonis could help Mother Russia win the gold in Seoul.
- Under the direction of assistant coach George Raveling, a U. S. Select Team - composed mainly of players on the borderline of making the Olympic team - travels through Europe and takes no prisoners. Ensign David Robinson is on board, to see if he has the proper motivation to make the team.
- A doctor in Portland says he's going to recommend to the Soviets that Sabonis shouldn't play in the Olympics - his foot isn't ready and an injury could end his career . . . a statement that will be believed in Moscow the same as a tourist who flies in from Los Angeles and says the 47 new pairs of Levis in his suitcase are his very own and not for resale.
With the first game in Seoul only slightly more than two months away, the 37 players still on the hopeful list move to the Georgetown campus in Washington, D. C., this week, where they'll go through more closed-door drills. By early September the roster will be down to 12 players and Normandy will be ready for invasion.
It's all quite a process to get ready for a quadrennial event that, insofar as basketball is concerned, has all the history of Attila's romp through the Alps.
Paranoia and fear of spies and suspicious minds and nervous stomachs have their place in athletic competition. But no one's ever accused Olympic basketball of being competitive.
You think Tyson-Spinks was lop-sided. Look at the history of basketball in the modern Olympic Games. The United States has played a grand total of 79 games in 11 Olympics beginning with 1936.
It has won 78.
Americans won 63 in a row until that fateful game in Munich in '72 when the Russians kept re-setting the clock until they got it right. That was a dark night for Yankee hoops. The Russians won, or stole, the gold medal, and when U.S. coach Hank Iba bent over the scorer's table to sign the official protest sheet a pickpocket got his wallet, and $370, out of his suit.
Since that loss, the U.S. has won 15 consecutive Olympic games - seven straight in '76 and eight straight in '84.
So, what's to worry?
The U.S., historically, has made the rest of the world look like Eddie Edwards. In 1984 in Los Angeles, with coach Bobby Knight suffering nightly nervous breakdowns and assorted tantrums, the U.S. won by more than 30 points a game, and beat Spain in the gold medal game by 31 points.
The Americans should have had to play with four guys, or with chairs on their offensive end of the floor, or with special guest coaches picked at random from the audience.
In no sport in the Olympics does any country come even remotely close to a record that compares to America's in basketball. Even Chicago politicians with keys to the ballot boxes never had a run like this.
And if NBA professionals are allowed to play from 1992 on, it will only get better, or worse, depending on where you live.
And yet, there's all this commotion going on. The media is denied access to the trials, as if the practices are taking place in the basement of the Pentagon . . . Thompson is complaining about a Russian getting medical attention . . . They're worried whether David Robinson, for whom the San Antonio Spurs took out a second mortgage on the Alamo to acquire, can play.
As was the case when Knight was in charge in '84, the U.S. will no doubt bring home the Olympic gold in '88. But as with Knight in '84, it won't be cool - or very much fun.