The NBA season got started this week and I haven’t been this enthusiastic about a pro basketball season since one Michael Jeffrey Jordan last wore a Bulls jersey.

Beijing Olympics : Beach Volleyball
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That’s twenty-three years since I’ve had much interest in the pro game at all. So what has me jazzed THIS season?

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Of all things, a documentary about the 2008 Olympic team of household-name millionaires who actually had something to prove. It’s called “The Redeem Team”. It’s by the people who made the epic Jordan documentary “The Last Dance” and THIS is the preview that hooked me.

“I’m running through Pau’s f***ing chest” is what Kobe Bryant said about his erstwhile teammate and BEST FREAKING FRIEND Pau Gasol!

Here’s the set-up: Basketball is an AMERICAN game, even more so than baseball. It was invented, grown, and perfected in the good ‘ole U.S. of A. We were SO good at roundball that we would send our college players over to play in the Olympics against the pros from other countries.

Seriously, the other teams were comprised of men… full-grown MEN…who were “amateurs” in only the loosest of possible terms. We sent college guys, many of them teenagers, to play the world’s best…and we never lost.

Except in 1972 but that was only because of massive cheating by the referees. I don’t mean “cheating” in the sour-grapes sense. Team USA was flat-out scammed. Check this out.

I don’t blame the ’72 players and coaches for never accepting their silver medals.

Then, the Americans went back to dominating. Right up until 1988 when the US college guys got beat by the Soviets…again! There wasn’t blatant cheating like in ’72 but the Russian team was made up of 7-foot-tall Ivan Dragos who, again, were “amateurs” in name only.

After Seoul in ’88, the Americans decided, “Screw it, we’re going to send out the best PROS” and that’s how the Dream Team happened. Jordan, Magic, Bird, Barkley, and Christian Laettner (??!??) went over and DOMINATED in ’92. It was so crooked, players on the other teams were waiting around after games just to get autographs from the pros who just mopped the floor with them!

It continued that way, our pros annihilating, through the nineties. Undefeated gold in Atlanta in ’96. Same in Sydney in 2000.

But then, in Athens in 2004, the unthinkable: our pros LOST! Sure, maybe we weren’t sending our absolute best pros. A lot of the big names didn’t want to go abroad because a.) some of them had already WON a gold medal and didn’t feel like giving up their off-season and b.) there were SERIOUS concerns about terrorism that took the shine off the apple for some top pros. Still, the Americans lost in the first round by 19 points! To Puerto Rico!!

Olympics Day 16 - Basketball
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This is where “The Redeem Team” picks up.

The NBA lost a lot of older fans in this period. Some of the reasons were vaguely racist, like, “They don’t play good fundamental ball” and “Everybody wants to score and nobody wants to play defense”. Some of the objections were BLATANTLY racist, like, “I don’t like all these tattoos and corn-rows!”

It’s refreshing seeing the biggest stars of 2008 (some STILL active in the league today) putting the lie to those criticisms. These “spoiled, soft divas”, some of them pinned as selfish “ball-hogs” have to come together as a team, check their egos, and play a different style of hoops.

It’s really compelling stuff! And, a good reminder that these athletes are some of, not THE best, in the world. It’s definitely worth the 90 minutes it takes to watch.

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