Archive for Saturday, June 28, 2008

Commentary: Mavs owner wrong to rip Olympics

June 28, 2008

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In a world where the TV viewer can routinely see kicks to the chin, eight-man indoor football and 24-hour poker, it's not surprising that there are people who don't understand the Olympics.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is one of them, though his blog purports otherwise. Cuban first made his public case against the Olympic tradition four years ago and, perhaps impressed with own persuasiveness, he recently republished it.

The thrust of his earlier argument appears to have changed, perhaps because his handlers reminded him that it was unseemly for a billionaire to fret over who gets to use Jason Kidd's stubbled face on a McDonald's cup.

Actually, Cuban's early beefs seemed to be with NBC - the network of the Olympics, but no longer the NBA - and with the U.S. Olympic Committee, an easy and flag-waving target. As Cuban saw it, I think, he and his fellow NBA owners were providing the Olympics with not only free talent but quality summer television programming.

When your argument is vulnerable enough, however, that Don Nelson in rebuttal can make you look greedy and treasonous, it's time to shed the dead weight from your hypothesis.

Cuban's main objection now is that the Games are operating under false pretenses. The Olympics are not, Cuban says, about patriotism.

Allow me to yellow-card the owner here. He doesn't know that. He doesn't know what the motivations are of all the athletes, including the NBA players, who may be scattered from Shanghai to Germany this summer and hoping to play for their countries' Olympic teams.

I was fortunate enough to see my first Olympic event in person 32 years ago, and I can vouch that the athletes are not always in it for the money. I've seen too many tears of joy shed on the medals podium to think that most athletes are hearing cash registers, not their national anthems, as their flags are being raised.

Certainly, they might all yearn for a comfortable, post-Olympic afterlife, like a Michael Johnson or a Mary Lou Retton. But they know the reality.

At some point, the Olympic quest and all noble purposes therein usually kick in. I've seen it happen time and time again.

Ask the decorated Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson if they felt chills of patriotism upon being awarded their Olympic gold medals in 1992. They certainly looked like they were enjoying themselves. All athletes yearn to compete. Great athletes yearn to compete against the best. The Olympics, in most cases, still offer them - sprinters, swimmers, wrestlers and lately basketball players - the chance to do that.

Is there a more contrived event in basketball than the NBA All-Star Game and its attendant festivities? Cuban's marketing and PR people regularly campaign to have Mavericks included in the weekend.

Providing free talent for the game doesn't seem to bother the NBA owners for that annual farce.

As the late Jim McKay used to say, the thrill remains in "the human drama of athletic competition." The Olympic Games still offer that - on a global scale unlike any other.

No one should begrudge any athlete who wants to experience it.

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