Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Is Basketball in the Wrong Olympics?

By Anthony Brancato

As we prepare to watch a Summer Olympics that has been delayed one year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps we should ponder the point of whether one of its sports should be contested therein at all.

One winter night in 1891, a Canadian physical education professor at what was at that time known as the YMCA Training School and is now known as Springfield College in the eponymous city in Massachusetts, invented a brand new sport, intended to be played indoors during the winter months.

The sport in question, of course, is basketball.

The game's takeoff was slow, attaining demonstration (non-medal) status at the Third Olympiad (1904) in St. Louis (mainly because only American-based AAU teams competed), not becoming a medal sport until the infamous Eleventh Summer Games at Berlin in 1936 (what would have been the Sixth Olympiad in 1916 was canceled due to World War I, yet the 1920 Olympics did not become the Sixth Olympiad; but when the Games were cancelled twice in a row during World War II, the numbers of the Winter Olympics after the war were moved up, but not the numbers of the Summer Games ... go figure). Women had to wait until 1976 to play Olympic basketball — at the Twenty-First Summer Games in Montreal.

But given the winter origins of the sport, a good argument can be made for its being moved to the Winter Olympics.

And think of the "side effects" of doing this — the main such "side effect" being that it would help promote competitive balance in the NBA, because, on aggregate, most of the players on the American Olympic team, and, for that matter, foreign players on NBA rosters, would come from the league's powerhouse teams. While these "cats" are away in Switzerland or wherever for two weeks (the duration of the entire Olympic men's basketball tournament) playing for Olympic gold (although Olympic gold medals are actually "vermeil" — gold-plated silver; wonder if Dick Vermeil is aware of this) the "mice" will play — and win — NBA games that they presumably would have no shot at winning otherwise.

Five times during the league's history, games during the NBA Finals ("The Finals" with both the "T" and the "F" in capital letters is actually a registered trademark of the National Basketball Association!) have been played within the astronomical season of summer: June 21, 1988 (the Lakers over the Pistons), June 22, 1994 (the Rockets over the Knicks), June 25, 1999 (the Spurs over the Knicks), June 23, 2005 (the Spurs over the Pistons), and June 21, 2012 (the Heat over the Thunder).

One can easily envision the Miller Brewing Company parodying this by bringing back its iconic run of Miller Lite commercials from the '90s, such as the "Sumo High Dive," the "Miss Perfect Face-Off," and the "Recliner Ski Jump." One of the new "hybrid sports" could be called "Icesketball," where the players run around on a surface consisting of ice like a hockey rink. After all, if you can combine great taste with less filling, you can combine anything! (The caveat "Kids: Don't Try This at Home" would obviously need to be added at the end of the commercial.)

It is not a dangerous assumption to say that Dr. Naismith would favor this change.

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