It's August and we've reached the dog days of the NBA offseason. Fortunately, though, this year NBA fans have the Olympics to help bridge the gap between summer and the start of NBA training camps in October giving us NBA freaks something to keep our minds occupied for a few weeks.
During one of my recent weekly radio appearances with Brian Noe on Fox Sports Radio's "The Real Deal," an interesting question was posed about the Olympics due to the fact NBA chatter is typically slow this time of year. The question went something like this: Is it more meaningful to win an NBA championship or a gold medal in the Olympics?
Like most questions worth pondering, this question must be attacked from multiple angles. Many players born in countries other than America take a significant amount of pride in representing their countries and the NBA isn't necessarily viewed as the end all be all. For them, winning a gold medal on the basketball court is something they shoot for all of their lives. However, in America things are a bit different.
When asked whether winning a gold medal would be more meaningful than winning an NBA championship, members of Team USA are almost obligated to say winning a gold medal would be more meaningful simply because if an NBA player answers in any other way he runs the risk of being called unpatriotic.
But is this really the truth? In most cases, the answer is probably not.
For example, how often do you hear talking heads discuss the number of gold medals any NBA player has won over the course of his career when trying to judge his legacy? If you answered almost never, you're exactly correct.
How often do you hear aging 300+ pound centers (and you know who you are Shaq) rap about another center not having as many gold medals as he does?
Okay, so you get the point.
If a gold medal was really in any way comparable to an NBA title, the careers of Charles Barkely and Patrick Ewing -- just to name a couple -- would be framed in an entirely different way. Instead of being looked upon as two of the best big men who ever played the game not to win a title, they would be two big men who won gold medals and therefore were instantly considered to have had complete and legendary careers. However, since an NBA title is the measuring stick for basketball greatness in the United States, both players will always be looked at as not quite as great as they could have been by virtue of coming up short in The NBA Finals.
Again, this is not to imply every country views things the same way, but in America an NBA title is unquestionably the litmus test for greatness.
As a 12-year-old kid growing up and playing basketball it was a lot of fun to watch the original "Dream Team" compete in the 1992 Olympics. And yes, I was "that kid" out on the playgrounds and in the driveway pretending to be Magic Johnson leading the Americans to another 70-point blowout.
Still, what I really dreamed of was some day winning an NBA championship. Sure, it would have been an honor to stand on that podium and have a gold medal draped around my neck, too, but what I really wanted to do was hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy high above my head with tears streaming down my face just the way I saw players like Magic, Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan do on the small television in my family's living room. And chances are my dreams were very similar to the dream of millions of other kids growing up in America.
So while it might be politically correct to say winning a gold medal would be more meaningful than winning an NBA championship -- and you will probably hear more than a couple members of Team USA say something like this over the course of the next three weeks or so -- the truth is getting that ring is really what it's all about. Only the ring can complete a NBA player's legacy, and only the ring can ensure one achieves the equivalent of basketball immortality.