Well, there we have it — we've reached the end of the NBA 2020-21 season, seeing the first Bucks' title in half a century. I’ve gotta say that I was rooting for Chris Paul to finally get that ring on his finger before he’s out the door for good, but my hat goes off to The Freak.
His Game 6 was perfect — and then some.
Now, the attention on the basketball world shifts from the NBA to the international stage with the 2021 Summer Olympics just around the corner.
It’s pretty much taken for granted that the US team wins every year. Of the last 19 Summer Olympics, the United States has won 15 Gold medals, 1 Silver, and 1 Bronze. We barely even celebrate world victory anymore; for better or worse, total domination isn’t a luxury. It’s an expectation.
Well, we saw the worst of this kind of confidence (or arrogance) in the exhibition game against Nigeria. To everyone’s surprise, Nigeria beat the US, the 28-point favorite, 90 to 87. Some people might think it’s worth noting that the US roster doesn’t include some of the league’s best players, but to be honest, I don’t see that fact as noteworthy at all.
The way I view it, the NBA has a reputation to uphold. It’s supposed to be home to the greatest players in the world collectively, not just to a few superstars who we are lost without. And despite the surprising loss against Nigeria, I still believe it is.
The US Olympic team is simply paying the price for what has been wrong with the NBA for years now: the flopping is out of control. Especially considering the fact that much of the Nigerian team consists of NBA players (Gabe Vincent, Precious Achiewa, Miye Oni, Chimezie Metu, and Jordan Nwora) who would’ve likely never been considered for the US team, this win wasn’t a matter of talent.
The loss against Nigeria is partially a result of this reality: if you want to be successful in the NBA, you have to be able to perfect the art of flopping. But evidently, this just isn’t how it works around the rest of the world. It’s not enough to throw up a shot and fall to the ground to get to the free-throw line. Believe it or not, in most peoples' version of basketball, someone actually has to touch you for it to be considered a foul.
This is precisely what the officiating in the Olympics has reflected thus far.
Conversely, referees in the NBA reward acting more than playing, and they do it over and over again to the point where it’s confusing to watch as a fan at home. You’d think the ability to challenge a call would make the officiating better, but somehow, the officials watch a replay of an objectively horrible call — and after dragging out the game five minutes at a time — they still maintain that it was the right one.
And as far as I know, no one knows how or why. Commentators don’t dwell on bad calls, and players really have no option but to keep playing or to get ejected (that’s how terrible some of these calls really are).
Even though an anti-flopping rule was implemented into the league in the 2012-13 season, it seems like this kind of showboating is so embedded into the American style of basketball that the 2021 team has a lot of adjusting to do if they want to keep up appearances on the international stage.
It's simple: in order to win, there'll have to be much more commentary like this one: "In the NBA, I'm not sure that [Tatum] would get away with that kind of physical play." This is a remark that was made after Tatum used his body to back his way up into a layup, and like I said, whether or not we hear more comments like that will directly correlate with how much we can expect to see the US team win.
Beating Spain by 6 points is only making things look more interesting, too. The American team just isn’t getting the calls they’re used to, and they have no choice but to sink or swim in a more physical game.
The price of flopping at home may just be the loss of a Gold medal overseas, but only time will tell.