How the Olympics grabbed me, even if I knew better

[Note: Greg Panos writes and edits the Mount Dikembe NBA blog, so check it out. This is his first HoopSpeak guest post -- Ed.]

Seeing a 65-year-old man jump in the air, especially in celebration, is always ridiculous. Really, from the American perspective, so is the entire Olympic basketball tournament. But in both instances, I had no choice but to give in to the drama — when Coach K leapt in the air after Chris Paul’s clinching layup in the gold medal game, I double fist-pumped like a chucklehead; all through the tournament, in fact, I thought about strategy and yelled at the bro across the gym about the winning play Kevin Love just made.

The Olympic tournament kidnaps our discerning minds and convinces us we’re not watching a foregone conclusion. My Stockholm Syndrome compelled me to read every piece of press about the American team’s strengths and weaknesses — I thought for more than three seconds that a lack of size might be an issue for Team USA. Team USA, the same team comprising LeBron James and Kevin Durant and Chris Paul. I got revved up for the Space-Time Exhibition, also known as the game between the Dream Team and the 2012 team, a contest that seemed so real that for a few minutes I thought it was scheduled for sometime next month.

The truth is there’s nothing less dramatic than Team USA games in the Olympics. Everything we love about it is complete artifice, utter spectacle, or wholly based on the suspension of disbelief. Why else would we still bring up the 2004 “debacle” if we weren’t so starved for true drama? What’s the statute of limitations on that redemption story? Even the actual games become undramatic. The other teams fouled American ballhandlers just across halfcourt on every fastbreak and did so even when the semi-transition looked just a little hinky. My most farcical moment: when my friend at the gym sprinted over to high-five me in the middle of the Nigeria-Carmelo Anthony game.

What the Olympics hurls into relief, really, is the power of narrative construction. Some hardcore NBA fans scoff at narrative-building, as if to use storytelling (a fundamental cognitive process) to order and integrate perceived events is some ridiculous exercise. I’m positive that it’s not some ridiculous exercise though, because I got goosebumps during the medal ceremony, and it certainly wasn’t from the absurd basketball competition that preceded it.

The patriotism, the faux-agita (Lithuania, Spain), the spectacle of seeing James, Durant, Paul, and Kobe on the same team (and actually compete) — all that narrative construction works, it all makes the game richer for all of us who love the game.

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