Las Vegas Sun

December 21, 2014

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WHERE I STAND:

Games bring more than sports

The 2012 Olympic Games could make dreamers of us all.

It wasn’t that long ago, at least to someone my age, when the United States put together the first NBA-filled men’s basketball team to compete in the 1992 Olympic Games. To the many tens of millions of Americans rooting for USA gold, there was little question that our dreams would come true once the superstars of the hardwood took to the basketball courts of the Olympic Games.

The U.S. had put together the best basketball team on the planet, and everybody knew it. We called it our Dream Team.

Fast forward 20 years and look at the game, as I was privileged to do, through the eyes of a soon-to-be 6-year-old who is just beginning to understand what the Olympics are all about and who is doing that through his growing love of basketball. To him, every team headed for the Olympics is called a dream team, just like every young person’s desire to represent his or her country in this greatest of international sporting events is called a dream.

I had the great pleasure last week of being able to watch that little boy dream a bit just as many grandfathers and fathers did at the Thomas & Mack when the USA basketball team played an exhibition game against the Dominican Republic. The score, as lopsided as it was in favor of the team of Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant and other equally well-known NBA stars, was not what mattered. It was the game itself — the way it was played, the way the fans comported themselves and the way the players reacted to one another and their fellow Americans — that made us all realize we were watching something special.

You could compare and contrast that game to the NBA All-Star game that took place five years earlier in Las Vegas but there would, of course, be no comparison. On all levels, this one was a dream.

This week, athletes from over the world will converge on Merry Old England for the Games of the XXX Olympiad. And people around the globe, if only for a brief two-week period or an even briefer few moments within that time, will forget what separates us from one another and what compels us to differ with each other, and come together for a competition that will determine which of us is the best in our chosen competitive sport.

The winners will receive medals — gold, silver or bronze — and those who don’t finish in the top three will still receive the adoration and admiration of their fellow athletes and their countrymen for a job well done. Their achievements, which for young competitors represent a lifetime of hard work and total sacrifice, have brought them to the pinnacle of athletic achievement, and no amount of propaganda, bluster or senseless warmongering can ever take that away from them.

Or from us.

Today’s Sun is full of stories about the Olympic Games and some very special people who are about to represent the U.S. They are special because they live here. There are others who have competed in past Olympiads and who now call Southern Nevada home. Las Vegans have an extra good reason to cheer for the home team.

What we can’t forget, though, is the message of the games. It has been corrupted throughout the years, painfully and horrifically so, but it still endures because people, at their core, want to live in peace. They want their children to grow up in freedom, they want to pursue their own dreams and they want the lives of those who come after them to be better than the ones they live today. That is basic human nature, no matter how much the tyrants among us, the sloganeers and the ideologues would have us believe otherwise.

The news around the world and here at home is not good. Innocent people are being blown up because madmen are allowed to run free. Millions of people are enslaved because the world can’t come together to do what it knows is right. Too many things like oil, politics and money stand in the way of sanity. And at home, common sense and decency take a back seat to power grabs by people who care only about money and power and not other people on the team. Pretty much business as usual.

That, to me, provides the opportunity of the Olympic Games. While we must not forget that they are, in the end, just games, we can still focus on the victory. The prize for winning is both a deep sense of personal achievement for being the very best in the entire world as well as an enduring sense of pride in the flag of the nation each athlete represents and the national anthem played to celebrate the winner.

There is nothing wrong with being proud of our individual achievements, especially when they are part and parcel of something much greater than ourselves. In this case, the athletes run, jump, swim or perform a host of other athletic activities, either as part of a team or as a representative of their country, making their achievements about more than just themselves. You can see that on their faces as they stand proudly on the winner’s podium.

Coaches from Little League on up try to instill that notion in our kids as they grow through organized sports; parents and schools try to teach that to children who want to learn about government, business, social institutions and charitable organizations and how those pursuits affect our lives and the lives of others. In the end, we learn — or we should — that it is about our team and not just ourselves. We would do well to remember that during this election season.

This week, for however briefly, we are allowed to escape the real world; our eyes, ears, hopes and aspirations will turn toward England. Olympic Team members will do their best to bring home a victory for America and every person who feels that sense of pride in what it means to be an American.

I know it may be just a gold medal, but that medal is a symbol that tells the world and everyone in it that we can compete with each other on the field of sport; in the fields of medicine, chemistry, business, law, space exploration, technology; and across the entire human experience, and that we don’t have to do it with guns and bombs and radical ideologies imprinted on the minds of unknowing young children.

The promise of the Olympics is that it does allow each of us to dream of better things.

I have those dreams. My dream for that little boy and his sister, who got to see the USA basketball team in action and who only see the good that man can achieve, is that their lives are filled with high-fives and Olympic-size dreams of their own.

That used to be an American dream. There is no reason we can’t dream big once again.

Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.

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