Thursday, August 26, 2004

I just watched the US and Spain play basketball. The Americans won though Spain was in the game until about the last five minutes. The Spaniards played very well; the only one with NBA-level talent is Pau Gasol, but Navarro, de la Fuente, Fernandez, and a couple of others are fine players who would have done very well at the NCAA level.

I started out rooting for Spain for various reasons. First, I live here. Second, I'm a Pau Gasol fan. Third, I don't like the American team; you've read all the people who know more about basketball than I do explain why they suck. Fourth, as a KU alumnus, I have very mixed feelings about Larry Brown--on the one hand he coached the Hawks to their only NCAA title, but on the other hand he got them put on probation and took off for a better job. Fifth, I tend to root for the underdog, as I imagine most people do.

Anyway, the announcers on TVE1 were very fair and balanced during most of the game, but with about five minutes left, as the Americans began to pull away, they suddenly became very nasty. They started complaining about the referees' calls, as did the Spanish players and coaches. The Spanish coach started screaming and finger-pointing, and several of the Spanish players broke into mock applause of the US team in the last few seconds. Then the announcers started complaining about the fact that if you lose in the quarterfinals, you're out of competition for a medal. Now, of course, these were the rules set up beforehand, which everybody agreed to before the Olympics even started. But the sudden outburst of "bad loserness", to coin a phrase, made me so irritated that I wound up cheering when the Yanks won.

Spaniards tend to be very bad losers, and I think I know why. It's because of the extreme rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid. If you're a real Barça supporter, you know the whole thing is fixed so that you'll lose and Madrid will win no matter how well your team plays. You honestly believe this, and you honestly believe that it's somehow important in the scheme of things. Every time your team loses it's because the other guy cheated and the refs were fixed beforehand, and the bitterly partisan sports press floats dozens of rumors about the other team's skulduggery. And, of course, Real Madrid is not merely a sports team. It's evil incarnate. The players are crooked, the club management is corrupt, and the fans are thugs.

If you're a Madrid fan, you tend to take the rivalry a little less seriously--it's kind of like Red Sox fans take the rivalry a lot more seriously than Yankee fans. The bitterness of the fans of the team that normally loses is greater than the arrogance of fans of the team that normally wins. But the Madrid press and Madrid supporters are just as obnoxious as Barcelona fans, and according to them Barcelona has never beaten Real fair and square, either.

This extreme rivalry in which you never accept that hey, our team lost and that's all there is to it, the other guys played better, that's what happens in sports, has carried over to all sports in Spain. If we win, we're the greatest ever; if we lose, it's because the fix was in.

Besides, people, this is just sports. It's not like it actually matters which bunch of eight foot tall guys throws a ball in a hole the most times.

Comment: America has certainly not supported its Olympic basketball team this year, for many reasons. Just for example, they suck at playing as a team, and I could go on from there for several more paragraphs. But I wonder how much of it has to do with the fact that all the players are black.

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