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Olympic flame extinguished, but hopefully not gone, in spite of hypocrisy

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By Leland Stein III

It has been a month or so since the magnificent Olympic flame has been extinguished in Athens, Greece. For some the memory will fade into the back of their cognitive retention membrane; however, for me, the 2004 Athens Games will linger on . . . and on . . . and on.

There will be the obligatory gymnastics tour (there’s one coming to Joe Louis Arena soon), there will be the continued reverence of Michael Phelp’s wondrous athletic achievements that equaled six gold medals - eight - overall and a number of women from the golden soccer, softball and basketball teams will pop-up in commercials.

Their ascension on the world marketing stage will remind us something special just happened in Athens. But on a larger scale the memory must continue; it’s not just about sports.

I’m a hopeless romantic, and, even more so about the Olympic Games. I’m sure my vision is shaped, because I’ve been blessed to cover two Olympics - Atlanta and Sydney. I could barely watch the opening ceremony, because I was not there.

When one has been to an event like the Olympics, the only occurrence on this planet that can galvanize over 200 countries in one city over 17-days, then it should change one’s feelings about humanity and its possibilities; no matter that we live in a fractured time of dangling discord.

Whether you watched the Games intently, in passing or not at all, the Olympics are the most powerful source for humanity in the world. After witnessing the smorgasbord of people and languages converge at the Games, for a time our war torn world full of hate, animosity, anger and loathing disappear. It’s confusing to hear and see others focus on so much negative when there is so much good when 200 nations come together.

Some complain about sportsmanship, finger pointing or even call theses Olympics the Blame Games. I submit they have missed the point!

In any super competition among the world’s greatest athletes, there will be differences that are induced by competitive fire and the will to win. How lame would the Games be if people did not care enough to challenge a close judgment (re: Paul Hamm)?

What bothers me most is the collective condemnation heaped upon our men’s basketball team. The talk radio sports circuit and many in the written media unleashed words like don’t care, pathetic, apathy, lame, no character or heart against the men that finished the Athens Games with a bronze medal. These words were blurted out so easily it was callous and reckless behavior.

I watched every game they played and I did not see a bunch of pathetic, non-caring men. Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson, LeBron James, Richard Jefferson, Stephon Marbury and company cared and tried.

Sure there were some short-comings in the structure of the team, but that was no reason for so many in America to turn on them like they did. There seems to be an underlying agenda that seems to always be ready to lambaste those that make it to the NBA. I’ll let you insightful readers make that inference.

Here is an example of the hypocrisy that many perpetrated: An American Olympic medallist hopeful fell to 30th place in her sport and the media praised her for having heart and competitive spirit. I guess when you have 12 Black men making millions, those that judge them can’t see past that fact.

I interviewed the late Hall of Fame coach, John McLendon, and he told me in 1997 that basketball would over take soccer as the world’s sport. McLendon was the first Black to coach an Olympic team and was a pioneer in international basketball. McLendon’s prognostications have come true, it’s time to give basketball around the world credit.

I also think coach Larry Brown could have changed his strategy from inside-out to up-tempo, man-to-man full court defense. He had enough athletic players to play that style.
Wrestler Rulon Gardner, who won bronze after winning gold in Sydney, was asked if he was disappointed with third place. He quickly said, Why should I be? I’m third in the world. Or when every marathon runner finished their race, no matter what place they finished, they either thanked God or kissed the ground.

The Olympics is simply the world’s best attempt at a collective vision for what the world can be. Yes, all want the gold, and rightfully so, but the massive union of humanity in a celebration of peace, brotherhood, sisterhood through sports is the real deal.

Too many focus too much on what’s wrong and many missed all that’s good.

Leland Stein is a veteran journalist/columnist; he can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com

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