by August 25, 2008

by Ryan Jones

I pasted this url into the comments section of the pre-gold medal match commentary on Saturday night, but since I think only three people read it, I decided to post it again today.

See, here it is again.

Assuming a lot of you STILL won’t read it: The story, from the website, is titled Dunks, Mom, and Apple Pie: The Marketing Genius of USA Basketball’s “Redeem Team‘”. The gist is that the humble, well-mannered, flag-draped image we were given of the 2008 U.S. men’s national basketball team was just that—an image, created by USA Basketball (a glorified marketing arm of the NBA) as a way to undo the damage done by the ugly Americans on the failed ’04 Olympic team. It was a way to to make all those big surly tattooed black guys not seem so mean, to remind people at home and abroad that, hey, when we all work together and put God and country before ourselves, we can do anything. And P.S., buy more jerseys!

I tend to agree with a lot of this piece, and I’m pretty sure the marketing push worked. As the article points out, the mainstream media mostly lapped it up; this isn’t surprising, of course, as these people can be conned into pretty much anything. But then, so can the rest of us. My mom’s one of the millions of people who loves everything about the Olympics: The pageantry, the feel-good stories, the chance to get really excited about sports she otherwise won’t even think of for the next 47 months. We were talking about Redeem Team a week or two ago, and she mentioned how impressed she was with the way the players “sounded” — so humble and patriotic — and with how they were presenting themselves.

As I tend to do, I went off on a little rant about how I thought it was mostly marketing horsesh*t. She called me cynical. She was right. I think we both were..

Anyway, this got me thinking: Why did you root for this team?

If you’re American, was that all the reason you needed—the knowledge that these 12 guys (well, 11 actually—I think one of them was born in Italy or something?) were all born in the same cozy, non-contiguous 3,537,441-square mile patch of grass that you were? Is the bond of “shared” experience enough to make you support these players?

Or is it a more specific definition of patriotism? Does the same corner of your mind that makes you want to see Becky Hammon waterboarded make you root for the Americans, no matter what?

Or is it NBA team or player loyalty? If you’re a Utah Jazz diehard, does your love and affection for point guard Deron Williams and team manager Carlos Boozer overwhelm your loyalty to Andrei Kirilenko, let alone any non-Jazz players? Is that why you rooted for this team?

And if that’s it, what about the players you DON’T like—the Kobe v. LeBron battle aside means that a lot of you were forced to cheer for a player you apparently hate so that the player you love could get his gold. What was that like? Weird, right?

I can kinda relate to that one. I don’t hate any of the guys on the U.S team, but there are certainly some I’m not fans of. Ideally, those players would’ve sucked individually while the team succeeded in spite of them. But these guys (at least, the ones who got on the court—sorry Mike Redd!) are too good to suck. I DO carry some animosity toward the team’s coach and “GM,” enough that I would’ve been happy to see their reps take a hit if the Americans hadn’t won gold. But that’s a sidebar, mostly.

Personally, I rooted for the U.S. basketball team for the same reason I rooted for the Nigerian soccer team: A specific affinity for one of their best players. (I’d explain, but you don’t care.) I would’ve been psyched to see that one dude win a gold medal, and not really cared much about anyone else on the squad. The Nigerians took silver in soccer, the Americans won gold in hoops. My guys did OK for themselves. And I’m very much ready to move on.

So, back to the question: Why were you rooting for the Redeem Team? Were your loyalties in any way torn? Was it all about the red, white and blue for you—and if so, do you feel like you got conned by some slick-ass marketing along the way? If you weren‘t rooting for the Americans—either because you’re not one, or because you’re a hateful commie traitor like me—how did you view this team? I’m curious, and I’m sure we’re not talked out on this subject just yet. Have at it.