September 09, 2010
I've always taken the Chris Rock tone with taking in extra credit for things that you're supposed to do. Really, anyone who has ever laced up his sneakers for an NBA game -- whatever their background, home country, rooting interest, or age -- should at least have a passing knowledge of the controversial finish to the gold-medal men's basketball game in the 1972 Munich Olympics.
But when you actually see the best player on the 2010 Team USA men's team reference a game that happened 16 years before he was born by writing "1972" on his sneakers -- in a game against Russia played 38 years ago to the day that then-USSR beat the USA on a disputed series of calls -- well, this is just beyond cool.
That's what Kevin Durant(notes) did Thursday. He wore "1972" on his shoes while dropping 33 points in his team's 89-79 victory over a game Russian squad. Russia hasn't been a basketball powerhouse since the dissolution of the Communist government allowed for several of its republics to strike for their own independence two decades ago, but it more than held its own against Durant's USA team despite the absence of Andrei Kirilenko(notes).
Regardless of what you think about the game in 1972, the Cold War itself, and U.S.-Russian relations nearly 40 years after the incident; the fact that a 21-year-old superstar is referencing that medal-less (by choice) 1972 team in such an understated way? And not in a showy, jingoistic stance; but in (to use a term familiar to those who were around for the years leading up to the dissolution) a show of solidarity with that 1972 team?
Fantastic. Understand that this has nothing to do with "U-S-A," to me, and all about "his-to-ry." Even with unending scads of encyclopedias available at our fingertips, people seem less and less enthused at the thought of diving into those encyclopedias, even if they are allowed to change the online ones as they see fit.
Not only does it remind me of how proud I am to be an American, but it should remind followers from all nations in this tournament that being part of a team can be a pretty special thing. Whether you're a member of Team USA at one point, CCCP, the Russian team, or a squad that didn't even exist in the 1988 Olympics (which took place the month Kevin Durant was born), it hardly matters. You're a teammate for life, and I appreciated Durant's little message to his teammates.