Will Gold Ever Be Enough?
USA Women’s Basketball is inspiring the next generation.
by Abigail Diaz
The London Olympics have come to an end, but for one team, the London Games wasn’t about proving its greatness—it was about proving that it was legendary.
Five gold medals, 41 strait wins and a record that the USA men’s basketball team hasn’t been able to touch since the late ‘60s solidified the women’s USA basketball team as pure Gold.
It’s difficult to point out the team’s most important features, but for me, two aspects stood out: 1) the ideal that this legendary Olympic run is an accomplishment of not just the 2012 squad, but of generations of great female hoopers, and 2) women’s basketball is not as celebrated as men’s basketball, giving these women something to prove.
Sue Bird commented about the lack of attention toward women’s basketball: “It’s not really a lack of support [...] because clearly we have a ton of support. It’s just what it is to be an American women’s basketball player right now.”
Diana Taurasi, being much more vocal about issue, stated, “It does get taken for granted. Everyone keeps talking about if this is good for the sport. You know, they weren’t talking about if John Wooden was good for the sport when he was winning 10 National Championships in a row. Was it good for the sport when Jordan was dominating? Was it good for the sport when Magic and Larry were dominating? Hell yeah, it was good for the sport. So why isn’t this good for the sport?”
Admittedly, the women of Team USA were taken for granted. The team was expected to win the Gold medal, with only a dozen practices under its belt—half of them taking place in between Olympic matches. Coach Geno Auriemma was honest with his thoughts on the creation of this Gold-medal team.
“Our situation in USA Basketball is so different than everybody else’s,” Auriemma explained. “Everybody else has actually had a four-year plan. With us it’s like, ‘Hey let’s get together for five days, four years ago.’ Then, the following year, ‘Let’s get together for four days, let’s go to York for 10 days. Let’s play in the World Championships. Let’s take next year off and then let’s go to the Olympics.’ So for us it’s kind of like we jut throw it together and see what sticks.”
It’s understandable why the USA women’s take toward winning is different than the men’s. It’s certainly not an ideology based on proving which Gold-medal team is more superior. It’s more centered on continuing a tradition. Though the women of USA Basketball are aware of the situation, Taurasi admitted that they just “don’t talk about it.”
Taurasi acknowledged: “I don’t know in what sport a team has won five Gold medals in a row. I don’t know if it’s been done and to sustain that level of play—through different coaches, through different players, through different eras of basketball. I hope the people at home can appreciate how hard women’s basketball has worked through the years. It’s not easy playing at that level every year, every Olympics, every World Championships. It’s a lot of hard work from a lot of people.”
Many spectators will never understand how much work it takes to sustain this type of level of excellence. Lindsay Whalen’s admission that the majority of her Olympic journey was lived via the television because resting up for matches took priority over everything.
Bird said that up until the Australia matchup, the ladies had only had one day off in their entire Olympic run. Angel McCoughtry stated, “You can’t be complacent in the Olympics. There’s a Gold medal at stake, you are here to represent your country—you’re not just representing yourself. So the word complacent, it doesn’t exist.”
The women of USA Basketball have demonstrated time and time again that they are anything but complacent, and though these women are very much aware that countries all over the world are beginning to replicate their winning formula, it only pushes them to go beyond what has been expected.
For veteran players like Catchings, Bird and Taurasi, only time will tell if we will see them on the Olympic stage once again. But for Catchings, one thing is certain: “You look around, you look at the teammates that I have, the old teammates that I’ve had—the coaches. They been a blessing to me, and being able to help kids, help them achieve their dreams and their goals, because there is so many people that have helped me. I couldn’t be on the Olympic team by myself.”
It may seem difficult to believe that five generations of women’s Olympic basketball teams could parallel such icons as Wooden, Jordan, Bird and Magic, but they’ve managed to do so with one key exception. These women did it together, for one another, for their teammates past and present but most importantly, they did it to inspire the next generation.