“An Olympic medal is the greatest achievement and honour that can be received by an athlete. I would swap any World Title to have won gold at the Olympics.” – Former Olympic Boxer Jeff Fenech
I still remember the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul. My family and I watched the US Men’s Basketball Team lose by six points to the Soviet Union. It’s when I first remember hearing the subject of professional athletes in the Olympics. I recall both of my brothers bitterly complaining. They were frustrated that while professional NBA players were barred from Olympic basketball, European professional players were allowed to participate, leaving young college-age players to fend for themselves against powerful European pros.
In retrospect, it wasn’t quite that much of a gross inequality. Up until 1988, the United States Men’s Basketball Team had won gold at all but one Olympic Games since its inclusion in 1936 (not counting the 1980 Games, which the United States boycotted). Certainly the IOC and FIBA (International Federation of Basketball) had a double standard when it came to professional basketball players in the Olympics, but USA Basketball hardly suffered. It made no sense that American professionals were barred from Olympic competition while professionals from overseas were partaking in the Games; but let’s face it. The United States had managed up until then to do just fine.
As more European players began to enter the NBA, the IOC and FIBA decided to allow NBA players in the Olympics, beginning with the 1992 Games. Sure, it was exciting in 1989 to see the Dream Team play. Yet the excitement quickly wore off; and since then I’ve watched Olympic Basketball with less and less excitement. It pains me to even write this because as a fanatic, I feel so disloyal for being unable to find excitement in an Olympic event.
It’s much the same issue that I have with NHL players competing in the Winter Olympics. Seeing players who earn as much as $25 million in a year compete in a sporting event designed to be for amateur athletes….Well, it robs the Games of its innocence. This is all the more true when one considers the recent statement by NBA player (and 2012 Olympian) Dwayne Wade. In April Wade was reported to have complained that he and fellow team members weren’t being compensated for competing at the 2012 Olympics. As if this statement wasn’t audacious enough, Wade went on to say, “It’s a lot of things you do for the Olympics — a lot of jerseys you sell.” Ick.
It’s comments like these that make me wish professional basketball players were not in the Olympics. If NBA Commissioner David Stern’s recent comments are a foreshadowing, then my wish may come true. Unfortunately, WNBA players are likely to remain in the Games for now. For this fanatic, nothing makes sense about seeing highly paid professional athletes compete in an Olympic Games. (And yes, by saying this I realize I’m also including many other Olympic sports.)
My bet is that the US will easily win gold in both men’s and women’s events. The more interesting games might be the fight for bronze, with countries like Australia, China, Brazil, and Russia all fielding good teams in either one or both events. Of course, I’ll still be watching. It’s the Olympics, after all!
Published with permission from The Olympic Fanatic.