Has European Basketball Really Improved since ’92?

redeem-team.jpg

In my brother’s blog today, he asks whether, after beating top metal contender Spain by almost 40 points, the U.S. national basketball team, dubbed the Redeem Team, is better than its 1992 predecessor the Dream Team. I commented as follows:

I read an interesting statistic in the Spanish sport’s paper Marca today that during the ’92 Olympics, the Dream Team beat Spain by 41 points. Today the Redeem Team beat Spain by 37 points.

There is no doubt that today’s Spain team is far superior, as is the international competition overall, to its ’92 predecessor. That can only mean two things: first the U.S. team today is better than the ’92 dream team, or that the U.S.’s defeats during the last 16 years was due more to the U.S.’s fault than the rest of the world’s achievement.

So now my question is, is the 2008 Spanish team better than its 1992 predecessor? Or better yet, has European ball really improved or were recent U.S. teams simply too arrogant in not taking international play seriously?

As an aside, I have a comment about Spanish patriotism. After having lived in Spain for the past eight years, I have learned a great deal about Spanish culture and especially patriotism. In Spain, patriotism is highly frowned upon and considered analogous to fascism (ie, 40 years of Franco’s flag waving dictatorship). As a result, Spaniards often gasp at Americans and their love of the stars and stripes.

Nevertheless, Spanish people are — against their own wills — one of the most patriotic people I have met, even if they do not have the Brazilian, Norwegian, Argentine or American passion for flags. Spaniards are irrationally defensive of their diet, convinced of their lifestyle (if I had defunct peseta for each time I was asked rhetorically whether life was better in Spain . . .), and, as proven herein, are incapable of even admitting the childishness of the Basketball and tennis team’s actions. But most of all, I have noticed the patriotism in the way that the sporting events are covered, reported, and followed.

Yes, I admit that in every country around the world Olympic coverage will be heavily focused on domestic and not foreign coverage. The U.S. does this as does every other country. I will also admit that the winners of the NFL, NBA, and MLB misleadingly call themselves world champions. Having said that, though, there is a world of difference — which I have learned recently — in watching Spain compete in Spanish and non Spanish media. The Spanish media is so incredibly biased, constantly complaining and blaming every unforced error on poor officiating, and in the case of the Euro Cup this summer, chanting “goal” before the player even takes the shot.

Like my experience in watching Spain vs. Italy in the Euro Cup on French television (I was rooting for Spain), it was refreshing to watch the USA vs. Spain basketball game today on U.S. television. The commentars complemented Spanish players throughout the game, talked about their potential, and were excited about the ones who would be entering the NBA. It was never an “us vs. them” scenario, but rather balanced and positive commentary.

To date, Spain has had a great summer: The Euro Cup, the French Open, Wimbeldon, and the Tour de France. It is amazing that a relatively small country has performed so well. But spend any time listening to the Spanish media as it obsesses about Nadal or Fernando Alonso (and whines about Hamilton), the superiority of the Spanish Liga, and you’ll know just why I felt good that the U.S. — not because I am American but because they were the better team — beat Spain by 37 points. Thirty-seven points? That’s like winning in soccer by five goals, and that’s not a good trend for European basketball.

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6 Comments

Filed under Essays, Living la vida española

6 responses to “Has European Basketball Really Improved since ’92?

  1. Borja

    Hey Eric,

    I agree that the qualifying game was a disaster and that there was no competition, but did you see the gold game? That was a completely different matter. Why hasn’t your brother written about it? I demand an analysis of that game after all the criticism on the spanish team!

  2. eric

    I didn’t see the game, but if I judged it by what was written in the Spanish press (As, Marca, El Mundo), Spain was far superior to the Redeem Team and deserved the title.

    Once again, I didn’t see the match, but I understand that Spain played well. Really, though, how can you judge? The U.S. spent the entire Olympics beating teams by an average of 30 points, including Spain and Argentina. They were never really tested or had to truly compete, so when Spain finally makes it a close game, it is hard to judge whether the U.S. had a slow day or was really being challenged.

    I guess it would be interesting to have best 4-7 finals.

  3. Borja

    Well I saw the game, and i don’t think the US had a slow day, they were as aggresive and fast as ever but Spain was focused as it was the gold game and were very motivated. The game was great, probably the best in international tournaments ever and both teams played phenomenally and were true to their styles. But yes, the US were challenged but were able to respond and win fairly.

    I agree that the spanish press was as chauvinist as ever, I don’t really think the referees played in US favour, though they never signaled travelling when the americans did it, but honestly i don’t think they influenced the outcome.

    All this to say that this reflects that the distance between the US and the world in basketball have diminished but the US is still far ahead.

  4. eric

    Yes, my guess is that Spain’s performance in the finals counters my claim that European basketball has not improved. It most certainly has.

    So, if European ball has improved significantly, which team is better: the Dream Team or the Redeem Team?

  5. Borja

    This question is a no-brainer. The Dream Team was and will ever be the best team in the history of basketball. I am not going to try to rationalize this too much, I think the Redeem team was more athletic than the Dream Team, but the Dream Team was more talented and more fun to watch, it might have to do with the fact that professionals now leave college earlier and focus more on athleticism than technique. It was a pain to see Dwight Howard in the line for the FT. And Lebron is amazing but he is no Michael Jordan. They do have an incredible intensity in any case. Which leads me to the next interesting topic, is doping allowed in the NBA? I mean, OK they are african americans and all that, but the other guys in other teams are also athletes, there shouldn’t be that much of a difference in power and speed.

  6. eric

    I think performance enhancing drugs are pretty universal these days in baseball, basketball, football, tennis, and yes, European soccer. Apparently Spanish and Italian teams are the worst.

    My guess is that if US players take something, then Spanish guys who play in the NBA are taking the same stuff.

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