By: Jeffrey Newholm
Much discussion has been made about notable defections from the US men’s Olympic basketball team. The women’s team, on the other hand, is so loaded with talent that the discussion was focused on who was left off. The women’s team has won 41 Olympic games in a row, earned five straight gold medals and hasn’t lost a game since 1992. And this year anything but another gold would be a shocking development. When one analysis the roster, it’s easy to see why.
With only 12 teams in the WNBA, women’s pro players are already amongst the elite in their craft. With only 12 pro players making the Olympic squad, Olympians can count themselves as the world’s very finest. This year’s roster offers a farewell to the game’s beginning era while simultaneously ushering in a new one. This is the last Olympics for legends Tamika Catchings and (in all likelihood) Sue Bird. It’s also the first for Elena Della Donne, Breanna Stewart and Brittney Griner. Bridging the new and the old in the game are stars such as Maya Moore and Tina Charles, players who are by now fairly well experienced. It’s a team that showcases the past, present and future in the ladies’ game. And it figures to be a good show.
The coaching staff also features the game’s best and brightest. Uconn coach Geno Auriemma leads the team, and his assistants include respected colleagues Dawn Staley and Doug Bruno and accomplished pro coach Cheyrl Reeve. With such an embarrassment of riches, the hoopla surrounding this team would figure to be through the roof. Sadly, this is rarely the case for women’s basketball.
When the US women’s soccer team won the World Cup, the players were showered with praise and adoration. Sports Illustrated gave each player her own individual cover. When SI previewed Olympic basketball, the women got all of two sentences. America’s routine Olympic dominance has come to pass almost without comment. But the games are still worthwhile for us to watch, and for the players to play. The same justification I gave for watching the NCAA tournament applies for the Olympics as well. Watching the women’s team isn’t about seeing hotly contested games or stressful last-minute scenarios. It’s about watching an excellent team play really well. And isn’t that what watching pro sports is all about?
When group play tips off on August 7th for the women’s squad, I hope America’s players play with the right attitude. Judging by what I’ve seen of the team in exhibition play, Gold is an extremely plausible scenario. Team US will have a huge advantage in the paint and on the boards with Griner and Stewart inside. If opponents try to pack the paint, Taurasi and Moore can bury their foes with threes. But the goal, as Geno tries to stress to his collegiate team, isn’t winning or increasing the advantage on the scoreboard. It’s about becoming the best player and teammate that a woman can be. Perhaps this won’t make headlines or sell magazines, even if the team wins Gold. But the journey to get there figures to be a rewarding experience for the players and a joy for those who tune in to watch. And for me, that’s more than enough.
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