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I don’t love my country. I don’t believe in our symbols or purported values, or in what we are meant to represent to the world. I am frustrated when, after a violent tragedy, a politician says “This isn’t America.” I scoff at closing remarks in speeches and debates, when candidates offer platitudes about how the people of Michigan or West Virginia or wherever else are strong, resilient, hard-working people. It’s oversimplified, nonsensical flattery. And I am allergic to patriotic propaganda.
I believe that, in many ways, the world can be frighteningly simple. People have needs and desires. Those needs and desires are often at odds with the needs and desires of others. Those with more power and will tend to get what they want; those with less tend to not. It’s competition in its basest form, and it depresses me.
But it’s also why I love sports: a place where conflict is reduced to arbitrary goals.
People who dislike sports tend to hide their dismissal under a thin veil of condescension (“I don’t watch sportsball”), and their opinions are neighbors to disliking superhero movies, animation, video games, or anything else that other people love but they themselves never learned to enjoy. I find those opinions sad and unbearably boring, but understandable. I used to think that some sports were good and others were bad, until I accepted that all sports are arbitrary and that virtually any sport can be entertaining for those who choose to learn its rules.
When I watched The Redeem Team, Netflix’s new sports documentary about the U.S. Olympic men's basketball team, I was enthralled. The film is about the historical dominance of the USA Basketball Men’s National Team; it traces how the rest of the world caught up as the NBA grew in popularity and basketball became a global sport. In the 10 Olympic games from 1936 to 1988, the USA Basketball men’s team featured only amateur players. The U.S. only began to allow pros to play in the Barcelona Olympics of 1992, after losing to the Soviets. This led to the creation of the “Dream Team,” which included Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Charles Barkley—arguably the best team ever assembled in team sports. NBA pros dominated the sport until Team USA was embarrassed in the 2004 Olympics, spurring their quest for redemption in the 2008 Olympics with a team dubbed the “Redeem Team.” The Redeem Team features interviews with the players and coaches who were there between 2004 and 2008, including LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Coach Mike Krzyzewski, but also the journalists who covered the events and added context to what Team USA meant to the basketball world.