We Americans like being the best at everything, dammit. That’s no revolutionary proclamation; we’ve known it for a long time. But we don’t just like being the best — we like being 1776 times better than everybody else.
Hence last night, when the U.S. men’s basketball team obliterated Nigeria in basketball. If you haven’t heard yet, how many points do you think we’re talking about? 30? 40?
Eighty-freaking-three. Team USA won 156-73, scoring the most points in Olympic history. The score makes Team Nigeria look like a group of blind paraplegics. ‘Merica, right?
This is not a sympathetic post. I’m not one of those moms who sits on the side of the court yelling at the dominant team, “leave them alone!” I love watching LeBron pin shots between the backboard and the rim and Carmelo Anthony re-define “Going HAM” with a barrage from downtown.
As Maximus once proclaimed, “are you not entertained?”
I don’t mind that the Americans ran up the score and Carmelo made it rain so often that it seemed the court would flood. I smiled when I heard the U.S. won by 83. Take that, Nigeria.
Feels good, right? I just want to talk about this feeling for a minute.
It suddenly dawned on me. I had nothing to do with this victory. I’ve never met any of the guys on the U.S. team, and I probably never will. I have no reason to assume they’re better guys than those on Nigeria. I mean, Kobe was accused of rape and Chris Paul once punched a dude in the nuts.
So why was I so happy? Well, though I’m just a very small part of the United States of America, the United States of America are fairly large a part of me. So when part of me outshines part of someone else – and does it in lol-did-you-see-that-score-bro fashion –, that makes me happy.
Team USA was not a bully in this game. Its players were just that much better than Nigeria, even when they stopped trying. Coach K benched Kobe and LeBron and once Carmelo got hot, he benched him, too.
“I take offense to this question because there’s no way in the world that our program in the United States sets out to humiliate anyone,” he said.
I’m not saying the members of Team USA bullied Nigeria…but this game reminded me of one from a few years ago.
When I was a sophomore in high school, the other two Gentlemen and I played on a pretty good basketball team. We eventually lost in the conference championship game. There was a new team in our league that year, a school for “problem children” who had gotten in trouble at other schools. As it turned out, they were rather dysfunctional on the court. When they came to our gym to play for the first time, we built a decent-sized halftime lead.
Yes. Forty-eight to two.
We were hyped. You know how immature high school guys are. We were joking around on the court, having a good time, winking at the ladies while throwing down 360-degree dunks (I’m pretty sure that happened) and embarrassing our opponents in the process.
For all our foolishness, we had a coach with even more wisdom. He taught us a lot, and on that day he told us, “don’t make it obvious, but help them score.” He wouldn’t let us take off on any fast breaks, and we did everything in our power – without making it obvious – to save their pride. We won 93-15. Pretty brutal, right? Not nearly as brutal as it could have been.
The team we played against got a whole lot better and made it to the championship two years later.
I learned a valuable lesson from that game – a lesson that should be applied to life. There’s nothing wrong with being the best at your trade. Nothing wrong with wanting to win. Isn’t that what we strive for? But when you make a show of it, brashly display Yes, I know I’m much better than you and I’m going to make sure everyone else knows, you do nothing but make yourself look bad.
And true greatness is being the best at your trade but never feeling the need to acknowledge it.
“Ancient societies had anthropomorphic gods: a huge pantheon expanding into centuries of dynastic drama; fathers and sons, martyred heroes, star-crossed lovers, the deaths of kings – stories that taught us of the danger of hubris and the primacy of humility.” — Tom Hiddleston