August 11, 2012
LONDON – France had just lost by 36 points to the United States in the gold-medal women’s basketball game, but you would have thought France had just won by 36 points.
French fans were standing and shouting and waving their flag. The French players were hugging and laughing and waving to the crowd.
This strange scene said it all about the impressive, utter dominance of the American women’s program, which has won 41 straight Olympic games.
When America’s Olympics opponents walk into the gym to start the game, they have abandoned all hope. They fully understand the might of the United States’ team. That’s why these opponents celebrate losses as if they were wins.
The United States women demolished France, 86-50, continuing a long string of dominance, but here’s the problem with all this excellence:
It does not produce thrilling basketball theater.
American women’s coach Geno Auriemma has wondered why his team is not more loved while the U.S. women’s soccer team rolls happily along as the nation’s sweethearts.
Maybe, Geno said, everyone would pay more attention if we struggled. He was being sarcastic. He was also on to something.
The soccer team has won through hearts through drama. Peril holds enormous power to seize interest, and the soccer team always seems on the edge of disaster.
The soccer team needed a miraculous comeback to defeat Canada in the semis, and required a sensational save by Hope Solo in the final minutes to defeat Japan for the gold medal. There’s an entertaining balance to the women’s world soccer scene. Games are fiercely contested. It produces great TV.
Peril is foreign to America’s basketball team. At one point in Saturday’s victory, the Americans led France, 69-37, and the arena was virtually silent. Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul, in the gym to support their friends, were struggling to keep interested. Drama had not been seen since the first quarter.
Guard Sue Bird understands that her homeland fails to embrace her team, even though this team relentlessly mows down opponents.
Or maybe because this team relentlessly mows down opponents.
“People overlook what we do,” Bird said a few minutes after the win over France. “They see the scores, and that’s potentially why they don’t tune in because they expect it.
“But people don’t understand how difficult it is to be this consistent. The rest of the world, all they want to do is beat us.”
It is sad. The American women are on a magnificent basketball streak. They combine precision and emotion to play the game the right way. This is a disciplined team with just the right amount of flair.
Genuine competition would help the team’s appeal. American star Candace Parker insisted the rest of the world is improving in women’s basketball, but I don’t see it. I’ve watched the past three Olympic finals, and the show always is the same.
When America’s most dominating team takes the court, opponents have no chance.
And they know it.