'Olympic Fever' Keeps NBA Players Sick in Bed

Soccer's World Cup appeals to some US sports fans because it's the one time they get to play the underdog. It is like a hyper nationalist bizarro world where the US team becomes the plucky Rocky Balboa-esque over achiever, and fans boo big bad bullying monoliths like Nigeria and Chile. When else but during the World Cup can you overhear in a bar, "I hate those Cameroonians! They're so damn cocky!" By tournament's end folks from coast to coast scream themselves hoarse over the success of finishing in 6th place. For all fans that can't get enough of that magical soccer feeling, you now have USA basketball.

When the US National Team was trounced at the 2002 World Championships, it indicated that the wheel had indeed turned. The game was global and international teams that practiced year round with players who have been team mates since they were in basketball work camps (what in this country is called "AAU") made fools of the US team. No more would international competition roll over and pose with the US squad afterwards for pictures. Instead they back-cut and passed circles around a befuddled crew of NBA also-rans who played because the top-tier players couldn't handle the trek to Indianapolis. Immediately there was an outcry from the sports radio punditocracy. "If only we had sent our best players," the whine went. "How does Shaq sound? How about Kobe? Jason Kidd? That will show everyone. USA! USA!"

It sure sounded great. But as the upcoming Athens Olympics draw near, periodic splashes have been audible. The splashes are the sound of Neo-Dream Team 2004 diving off the boat. All-Stars Ray Allen, Vince Carter, Kidd, Kevin Garnett, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Tracy McGrady and Mike Bibby have all jumped ship.

The reasons players give for dropping out are all different. Excuses run the gamut from "a wedding" to not being able to legally leave the country. Yet Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star Point Guard Sam Cassell believes that self-preservation against anti-US sentiment is the true reason. ``You can't be mad at somebody who doesn't want to play,'' Cassell said. `` Some people might have feelings about security. Personally, I don't think that's going to be a problem.'' But Sam-I-Am should know that security concerns are rooted in reality. For the first time in history, the International Olympic Committee has taken out an insurance policy against he games not happening because of an attack. Also just last week, a bomb went off in Athens.

In the lamest attempt at spin since Bush said, "mission accomplished", Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis told reporters that no one should worry because it was "only a local bomb." And indeed it was. A Greek based organization calling itself "Revolutionary Struggle" blew up part of a police station causing no casualties but making it clear that they didn't want that warm fuzzy Olympic feeling in Greece. "With regard to the Olympic Games we say that Greece's transformation into a fortress, NATO's involvement, the presence and activities of foreign intelligence units show clearly that (the Olympics) are not a festival like Games organizers say, but it's a war," it said in a statement. A strike of hotel workers has been called as well and if there is one-thing NBA players hate more than being incinerated, it's not having room service. Meanwhile the USA basketball frets about a repeat of the debacle in Indianapolis. They are suffering nightmares of Manu Ginobili taking a back door bounce pass and dunking on Team USA Center Chris Mihm.

I say let's lay back and enjoy that world cup feeling. After all, the US still leads the world in occupying countries. With any luck, the next Olympics could be a competition entirely of US colonies and we won't have to send any teams. We can just watch until Cheney, sitting above the action, eating peeled grapes, gives a thumbs up or thumbs down and the loser gets a photo session in Abu Ghraib.

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