Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Economy, America and Basketball

While there certainly are more important issues on the American agenda than sports at the moment, this blog does provide the opportunity and forum to consider the implications of the intersection of the current turmoil with sports. While sports in the grand scheme of thigns unimportant they do seem to crystallize a national mood or sentiment. China was able to "feel good" about its status as a nascent super power by its dominance of the gold medal column at the Olympics. Great Britain soccer struggles (what they term "bottling it") continues to remind them of how far they've fallen. Brazil demands its sports emissaries not only win but play with the flair of the country's soul. In essence sports can reflect how the nation sees itself and where it sees itself going.

For the past 20-30 years America has been dominated by three sports: football, baseball and basketball. Football is certainly the most popular if one factors in the varieties of pro, college and high school. Baseball has the historical legacy that seem to set it apart (as the unique navel gazing the closing of the House Ruth Built demonstrated) . However I would argue basketball is the American sport. By that I mean that America considers its identity represented on the international scene through basketball. Losses for the American baseball team at the Olympics or WBC have not and will not cause the panic and soul searching that losses the basketball team produced. A loss in 1988 produced the Dream Team as the nation demanded it flex its muscles to re-establish its preeminence. The country fretted if our best, in the form of the Redeem Team, would be enough to maintain our "rightful" position of dominance. Questions of the influx of European basketball players seem to result in far more skepticism and Nativism than the influx of foreign talent into baseball. Perhaps there's a historical or a racial component that drives the salience but in the end I'd argue the US considers that its hegemony and place in the world is symbolized by being the center of the basketball world.

Which is where the intersection of the economy and basketball comes into play. Basketball is quickly becoming the second biggest sport in the world. Basketball leagues in Europe and China have made leaps and bounds in quality and popularity. The threshold seems to be being reached in Europe of moving away from an exporting league to one that is starting to import more than just the NBA players that could not cut it. No different than the Brits learned that the sun sets on all things, the basketball world we will awaken to after the rubble is swept up will be a very different place. While perhaps Americans could root for an aging Lebron in Moscow or a Kobe Jr. in Beijing , this will be a painful transition as how American see themselves through the sports world is about to qualitatively change. The truly unfortunate part for this country, I doubt the US like Ozymandias, can view the end from the top.

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