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Carol Platt Liebau - Columnist

Carol Platt Liebau is editorial director and a senior member of the editorial board. She is an attorney, political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA, and has appeared on the Fox News Channel, MSNBC, CNN, Orange County News Channel, Cox Cable and a variety of radio programs throughout the United States. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Carol Platt Liebau also served as the first female managing editor of the Harvard Law Review. [go to Liebau index]

You’re No Pat Tillman
USA Basketball’s Roster of Shame
[Carol Platt Liebau] 6/14/04

One of the best movies of last year was Miracle, a retelling of the USA hockey team’s stirring victory over the USSR in the 1980 Olympics. Perhaps the greatest sports upset of all time, that game – pitting a makeshift band of college students against the world’s best hockey team -- gave a much-needed morale boost to the weary, worried America that would elect Ronald Reagan in less than a year.

Even Americans who are hardly sports fans take Olympic athletes to their hearts. And we are right to be proud of the men and women who, this year, will tuck a gas mask into their luggage and leave for Athens, eager to compete and excel against the best the world has to offer – notwithstanding the whispered hint of terrorist threats. To them, this shot at Olympic gold is the culmination of years of struggle, discipline, and financial – often even professional – sacrifice.

But sadly, there’s one team of which we can’t be proud – the USA Basketball team. And that’s in part because, currently, there isn’t much of one. As it turns out, of the original nine players who were chosen to play for America, only Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson and San Antonio Spurs forward/center Tim Duncan have continued to honor the commitment they made to represent their country. (To his credit, Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony has expressed interest in playing, but hasn’t been invited.)

Just two weeks ago, Mike Bibby, one of the first players originally chosen, withdrew. He said that he needed to give his body more time to rest. And Tracy McGrady of the Orlando Magic reversed his decision to participate, supposedly because he was getting married. Guess he didn’t realize that when he agreed to play – and apparently there was only one date that would work for the wedding.

Along with Bibby and McGrady, there’s a whole roster of NBA bigwigs who have simply refused to play for America: Shaquille O’Neal (Los Angeles Lakers); Ray Allen (Seattle Supersonics); Kobe Bryant (L.A. Lakers); Kevin Garnett (Minnesota Timberwolves); Jason Kidd (New Jersey Nets); Karl Malone (Los Angeles Lakers); Elton Brand (L.A. Clippers); Vince Carter (Toronto Rapters); Ray Allen (Seattle Supersonics); and Kenyon Martin (New Jersey Nets). They’re not being paid, and it’s going to be inconvenient, possibly even dangerous. So it’s nothing more than a simple question of patriotism. These players have answered, and their names belong on a wall of shame.

Yes, Kobe Bryant may still be defending against a charge of rape, and Kidd and Malone have suffered injuries. But there’s something that’s pretty pathetic about a bunch of big, strong athletes cowering at the specter of Al Qaeda – after all, no one’s reported that any of the young girls participating in the ice skating competition are declining to attend. Perhaps the strutting displays of machismo so evident on the basketball court have sucked the real manhood out of these guys.

It’s astonishing that so many of America’s foremost players apparently feel no obligation whatsoever to play for a country that has, on the whole, treated them very well. Take Shaquille O’Neal. The second most highly paid player in the country, he has a contract for $26,223,215. Jason Kidd earns $13,142,000. Prospective groom Tracy McGrady will be able to support his new wife in style with a salary of $13,279,750. All of us have heard about the Porsches, the Cristal, and the jewelry – and that’s fine. These players have earned what the free market will pay, and should be able to spend their fortunes however they please.

But it’s a shame that they’re too scared or too busy to give back a little bit to the country, the people and the system that have rewarded them so richly for their display of a single skill – the ability to put a basketball through a net. And the athletes who have declined a slot on the Olympic team needn’t try to signal their patriotism by sewing American flags onto their team uniforms. It will only remind us that they refused to represent that flag when it really mattered. What a contrast to Pat Tillman, the football player who gave up a lucrative career in professional sports and then sacrificed his life serving in the Special Forces in Afghanistan!

As for America, we can take pride in the fact that there are people like Tillman. Real men and women of courage, patriotism and honor are fighting for us abroad, so that these cosseted basketball stars can enjoy their flamboyant lifestyles in ease and safety.

So sports fans, the next time you wonder who Thomas Paine was talking about when he referenced “summer soldiers and sunshine patriots,” just remember – at least a few of them are playing on a court near you. CRO

Columnist Carol Platt Liebau is a political analyst, commentator and editorial director based in San Marino, CA.

copyright 2004


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