Sunday, August 24, 2008

Hoops of Gold

Working in IT, specifically in a production support role, can really suck. Sure, the pay tends to be higher than the national average and on occasion you get to attend conferences and play with new technologies, but for the most part it’s a career of frustration and disrupted sleep cycles. Like a Pavlovian dog, my stomach churns whenever my pager goes off at 2:00 AM. Will this be a 5 minute fix or a 5 hour debacle?

For me, this past work week gave me only one day in which I managed more than 4 hours of sleep on a given night. So it was with great reluctance that I decided to stay up on Sunday morning and watch the men’s gold medal basketball game. Boy, am I sure glad I did!

In the course of these Olympics, I haven’t watched more than one half of any game. Primarily a result of the time difference, I’ve relied on SportsCenter and the Internet to keep me updated on the progress of the men’s basketball team in Beijing. The story had been pretty much the same. “Team USA should not underestimate their international opponent. Team USA wins by 35 points.” So as I woke up from my mini-nap just in time for tip off, I sat in front of my TV with the expectation of watching our national team cruise to a gold medal.

Anyone who knows me knows I can be a passionate sports fan. With football season around the corner, I’ve already stocked up on extra bottles of Tums and throat lozenges. So as I sat – and stood and jumped and cheered and clapped and yelled – I had to remind myself it was four in the morning on a Sunday! I never would have expected this game to have been so exciting, not to mention frustrating at times, to watch.

It began early with Spain jumping out to a very quick five point lead on Team USA. Add to that the tightly officiated, almost ticky-tack nature with which the referees were blowing the whistle and the ugly sense of ‘upset in the making’ starting creeping into my gut. The two best players in the world, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, each picked up two fouls in the first ten minutes. “Uh oh! Not good.” The nail biting began.

It was then that coach Mike Krzyzewski made the first of his many astute coaching moves and went to his reserves. With James and Bryant sitting, Dwyane Wade came off the bench and was simply electrifying scoring over 20 points in the first half. When you consider the passion and toughness with which the Spanish players played, those were critical points that allowed the US to enter the half with the slimmest lead of these Games.

Spain’s un-intimidated intensity, team play and chippiness carried over into the second half, and they managed to linger against a team full of NBA all-stars. In the fourth quarter, Spain closed the gap to two points. Not twenty-two. TWO! As I peeled off the seal on my first bottle of Tums, Coach K called a much needed time-out to regroup the team. What followed was an exciting display of basketball, highlighted by Kobe Bryant taking over the game and responding to every big shot Spain had to offer.

As time expired, the United States secured gold and reclaimed its spot atop the international basketball community. For as much as I hated the moniker applied to this group of athletes – The Redeem Team – there was something to be said about watching Team USA do what they have not done in my son’s lifetime: win a gold medal in international play.

I’m glad I stayed up to watch this game and experience the excitement and passion that defines the Olympics. I’m sure I will be paying for it later on in the day, but as a sports fan it was completely worth it. All that’s left for me to do now is trudge off to bed with a smile on my face and the hope my pager doesn’t go off anytime soon.

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