TIME OUT by Joe Flanagan

Olympics Again Riveting

I must admit, I didn’t pay much attention to the hype and build-up for the XXIX Olympiad this past year. For some reason, I just didn’t seem to have “Olympic Fever”.
I can remember, at one time, the Olympics were pretty much the biggest thing going in the world of sports. Every four years, this was THE athletic event the entire world seemed to slow down for.
Personally, as I think back, I don’t really remember having much interest in the Sydney or Athens Games either. Not since Atlanta in 1996 has an Olympics truly captivated me.
Why? I’m not entirely certain. Possibly age and shifting priorities. Maybe time (or lack thereof), with a family and four kids involved in many events of their own. Could even be some cynicism after the myriad doping scandals in some of the main Olympic sports and dubious decisions through the years by the IOC (International Olympic Committee).
Whatever the reason, the Olympics weren’t necessarily a viewing priority for me.
Then, the 2008 Beijing Games began. Consider me captivated!
Wow, has there been great competition and amazing stories already, or what?. I’ve found myself quickly caught up in following various events and athletes, despite the huge time differential between China and the United States.
Michael Phelps certainly became “Must See TV” at our house. Seriously, we just witnessed one of the most incredible athletic feats in history enjoying  unprecedented exploits (NBC owes Phelps big-time – he likely saved the network’s struggling time-lag plagued coverage singlehandedly the first week).
The gymnastics competitions were also riveting entertainment, especially that of the young ladies (or tiny tots, in the case of China). Despite plenty of controversy, seemingly a staple of gymnastics competition, the USA competitors kept their composure and grace and were a joy to watch.
I must admit, I’ll be happy if I never see another sand volleyball match (I think KerryWalsh & Misty May-Treanor are going to have their own NBC prime-time show this fall – geez), but now that track & field has begun, I’m back to recording coverage and keeping up with as much as I can.
Did you see Usain Bolt’s insane 100 meter dash?! My gosh – what’s the limit for this guy? A world record under 9.7 at 21 years of age while goofing off the final 15 meters. Doesn’t seem human.
Of course, speaking of powerful performances, the USA basketball squad has, to date, lived up to it’s “Redeem Team” nickname, toying with and smashing competition that was supposed to provide a serious challenge.
Inevitably, I saw an internet columnist ponder whether this team might actually be better than the original “Dream Team” of 1992 and I thought I’d finish this week’s ramblings with a humble opinion on that.
Basically, uh, NO! Not in my book, anyway.
For one thing, this is a bit premature – the 2008 team still has to finish its business. But, assuming they continue their dominant play and win the  gold impressively, I would still argue in favor of the ‘92 squad.
Admittedly, the Dream Team had several stars well past their primes. Magic Johnson was coming off a year of retirement and Larry Bird was dealing with back woes, six years removed from his final MVP season.
However, never forget, that 1992 group was led by one Michael Jordan, in his prime at 29. That, in itself, pretty much closes the case for me.
Kobe Bryant, Lebron James and Dwayne Wade are dynamic stars, but, sorry, none are MJ. Jordan had plenty of wing help, as well, with Clyde Drexler and Bulls sidekick Scottie Pippen. An argument could be made that current point guards Chris Paul and Deron Williams are much more athletic than John Stockton. Remember, though, that Stockton merely fashioned a Hall of Fame career against dozens of more athletic players during his 19 NBA seasons.
When you look at the areas USA teams have struggled in international play the last eight years while losing world dominance, the “Dream Team” had ‘em all covered.
Ultimate leader and crunch-time performer – check (Jordan). Zone-busting three-point shooters – check (Chris Mullin, Stockton, Jordan, Bird). Defensive stopper – check (Pippen). Players who would thrive in physical FIBA-officiated play – check (Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing).
Actually, even more than the Jordan factor, the biggest edge for the 1992 Dream Team over the 2008 Redeem Team would be inside. Can you say mismatch?
The 2008 squad has, really, just one center – 22-year old Dwight Howard (although willowy Chris Bosh gives them minutes in the pivot). Howard is a great young talent and Bosh has been outstanding as a power forward, but how in the world would they stand up to a rotation of four future Hall of Famers – Ewing, David Robinson, Barkley and Malone?
It would surely be a great game, or series, between the two – I’ll grant that. However, you’ll have a hard time convincing me that a squad full of Hall of Famers, including the notably proud Jordan, Bird, Stockton and Ewing, would allow themselves to be on the short end.
Maybe someday we’ll see the team that can claim superiority over that ‘92 Dream Team. In my opinion, great as they’ve been, the 2008 Redeem Team falls short.
Certainly no disgrace in that and I still expect them be very worthy gold medal champions.