Last month, the U.S. men's basketball team qualified for next summer's Olympics by whipping a bunch of countries from the Americas, all by boxcar numbers. It would appear that we have finally figured out how to put a team and purpose together to regain the hegemony that we exhibited with the Dream Teams of the 1990s.
Now, straightaway, the NBA and the U.S. Basketball Federation should tell the International Olympic Committee that this is it: After Beijing, we will not be playing basketball at the summer Olympics anymore.
At the same time, the National Hockey League and the ice hockey federations of the United States and Canada should advise the IOC that after the 2010 Games in Vancouver, the U.S. and Canada will no longer compete in hockey in the Winter Olympics.
It is perfectly ridiculous for major-league team sports to kowtow to the Olympics. The best thing that happened to baseball was to have the pompous Europeans who run the Olympics kick baseball out. The World Baseball Classic, first held last spring with real major-league players, was a terrific success.
Moreover, everybody on Earth, except for a few apostate countries like the U.S., knows that the World Cup of soccer has become much more compelling and important than the Olympics. The Games are unwieldy, a smorgasbord from the past. And enough already with all the sappy ceremonies, the pagan religious stuff with the flags and flames and hymns and liturgy.
Neither does it make any sense for a premiere individual sport like tennis, which has its own world Grand Slam championships, to be in the Olympics. Every now and then golf makes noises about trying to get into the Olympics. Thank heavens that's never gotten to the first tee. Golf doesn't need the Olympics anymore than the National Football League or NASCAR does.
The Olympics is fine for what it has become — a nice showcase for second-tier individual spectator sports. And I'm sorry, but track and swimming and gymnastics and boxing and skiing and figure skating are all junior varsity box office now. It's lovely that their stars enjoy a day in the sun, but the more popular team sports, like soccer and baseball, deserve their own showcase.
What basketball and hockey ought to do is set up joint international tournaments for exactly this time of year — just as the NBA and NHL seasons begin. These world championships would be held every four years, in an odd-numbered year, like this one. 2011 would be a good start. They would be held in the same city, like New York or Los Angeles, where there are enough large arenas, or in the same country, in paired cities like Toronto and Montreal, or in reasonably close European cities, like, say, Prague and Milan.
Instead of being Olympic lounge acts, we would have the quadrennial world championships of the two premier indoor team sports together at the right time of the year. It would be fabulous and what basketball and hockey deserve. It would also be, if you will excuse me, very 21st century.