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These Colors Sometimes Run

I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I have the right to root against the Americans.

US Mens Basketball by Richard Giles is licensed under CC BY SA-2.0

These Colors Sometimes Run

Estimated Reading Time: 7 Minutes

Is it wrong to root against the USA in international competitions?

I don’t think so. Especially not when said USA team is made up of unlikeable players or is expected to dominate without any real competition or both.

Last week, the world was stunned when the USA men’s basketball team, made up of NBA All-Stars, lost Olympic tune-up games to both Nigeria and Australia.

I, on the other hand, had a different reaction to those losses – GAME ON!

Usually, I don’t find the Olympic basketball tournament very interesting, given the dominance of the United States, who have won 15 gold medals in 18 appearances, including six of the past seven Olympics heading into next week in Tokyo.

But now it looks like the US, who defeated Nigeria by 83 points in 2012, has a chance to be really challenged in this year’s tournament. And if the United States is beatable this year, I’m rooting for the field.

Does that make me a bad person? That seems a bit harsh. You might say it makes me a bad American. But really, I think it just makes me a normal sports fan.

It’s Not Without Precedent

In 2008, I remember staying up with friends until 2 or 3 in the morning to watch the men’s basketball championship game of the Beijing Olympics between the US and Spain. I’m not sure if it was the dominance of the US during the group stage when they won all five of their games by an average of 32 points, or if it was the sight of Lebron James leading the squad, but as the game progressed I realized that I was silently rooting for Spain.

Of course, the US edged the Spaniards for the victory, but as they were the overwhelming favorites entering the tourney, the Gold Medal didn’t really do much for me. I didn’t feel a sense of national pride at being an American or amazement after having watched an exciting tournament. It just kind of was what it was.

Fast forward four years to the 2012 Ryder Cup.

In what is now known as the Miracle at Medinah, the United States entered the singles match final day with a 10-6 lead, needing just 4.5 points to win the cup, while Europe would have to gain 8.5 points to claim it outright. What was expected to be a day of celebration for America turned into the biggest comeback in golf history, if not one of the most remarkable in all of sports.

But as the day wore on, I was pulling harder and harder for Team Europe when it looked like it might be game on at the country club outside of Chicago. A self-professed Tiger Woods hater, I was happy to see that the #2 golfer in the world went 0-3-1, gaining only half a point for the Americans, and missing a putt that halved his match against Francesco Molinari and secured outright victory for the Europeans.

While there were certainly guys on the USA that I liked, including Jim Furyk and Matt Kuchar, it wasn’t hard for me to root against Woods, Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson, and Dustin Johnson, who all sort of irked me for one reason or another. I found a scrappy, likable group in Team Europe, with some of my favorite golfers like Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter, along with his countrymen Justin Rose, Luke Donald, and Graeme McDowell.  

I didn’t feel bad rooting for Team Europe, and I didn’t feel guilty when they won.

There’s Several Reasons I’m Rooting Against USA Basketball this Olympics, and none of them have to do with how I feel about the country.

  1. The Roster – This isn’t as big of an issue as it was in 2008, when the “Redeem Team” included a bunch of players I despised, like Lebron, DWade, Dwight Howard, Carmelo and Jason Kidd. But honestly, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green are enough to make me not want to root for that team, even if they are wearing the national colors.
  2. The Coach – I used to enjoy Gregg Popovich as a coach. He was no-nonsense, coached a brand of basketball that was fun to watch, and generally seemed like an okay guy. But he has become a snarky, disrespectful whiney douche over the last few years, and it’s looking like he’s not much of anything as a coach without Duncan, Ginobili and Parker at his disposal. Check out this recent press conference after the US lost to Australia, when he denies that the USA ever blew out other teams, and then scolds the reporter who tries to follow up with “are you going to let me finish?”

Yeah, I’ll pass on rooting for him to win another gold medal.

3. Jayson Tatum – I don’t think it’s an accident that after the losses to Nigeria and Australia, Jayson Tatum was “out with an injury” when the USA finally broke through for their win over Argentina. Sure, Tatum might have needed some recovery, but I think it’s another sign that, despite all of his talent, he just doesn’t get it. He was part of the 2019 team at the World Cup in Beijing, where the USA was a disaster, limping to a seventh-place finish, and I believe that he has been part of the problem in Vegas so far this year, where the USA has lacked focus and leadership.

If I had to guess, I don’t think Tatum is one of the guys encouraging the players to take it easy on the partying so they can get tuned-up for the Olympics. We have already seen these issues on the Celtics, where Tatum is supposed to be one of the pillars, and I worry that if he wins an Olympic gold medal, particularly in a way where he thinks they can just roll out the balls and play, there might be no hope for changing his mentality as a leader in Boston.

You Root for Who You Want to Root For

I have previously written about how our rooting choices are very personal. Yes, we likely root for our local and our national teams, but we may make other choices based on our favorite players, our gambling wagers or our fantasy teams. We may just want to see storylines play out in an interesting and exciting way, or see players we like triumph over athletes we don’t.

I am also aware that on this site I have now advocated for abolishing the national anthem at sporting events and for rooting against the United States of America (though I do believe that you should play the anthem before you start rooting against the United States of America).

Yes, I’m proud to be an American. And I do almost always root for the USA along with millions of my fellow Americans. But I don’t really have a personal stake in the results of the national team. It’s not like they send gold medals to everyone in the country when the USA wins. I’m sure there’s some restaurant out there offering people a free taco anytime an American wins a medal, but aside from that, it’s just a matter of national bragging rights, and that’s not really an issue for me.

My reasons for rooting for or against certain teams is a more personal choice. And if you, like me, have reasons to root for someone other than the USA, that’s okay. We’re all just here for the show.

Craig has spent the last ten years as a sports information professional, working for several schools across New England at the Division 3 level. A native of Peabody, Mass., Craig is a life-long Boston sports fan. He is also an avid player of fantasy football and baseball, and commissioner of the AKA Family Fantasy Football League. Like most other Turf team members, Craig has a penchant for theater, spending his high school and college years as a set designer, sound designer and theater shop worker. He became a father shortly before the coronavirus pandemic, and as such, hasn't really left his home since last December.

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