Rooting Against Yourself
August 23, 2006
This year’s FIBA World Basketball Championships may give Greek-Americans another possibility to possibly pit both ends of the hyphen against each other. With both teams cruising through their opening round matches, a meeting between these two teams would be in one of the later elimination rounds of the tournament. Balancing ethnic-pride and patriotism doesn’t always lead to the same result. Depending on the circumstances, you may find yourself rooting for the Greeks and sometimes actually rooting for the Americans.
Growing up in the 80s during the Cold War, visits to Greece in the summers often featured arguments with our cousins on the topic of Greece versus the U.S. in various areas. Products of public elementary school education, where patriotism and monolithic teachings of the theory that the “USA is A-Okay” didn’t leave us open to the possibility that Greece could be somehow better at anything that the U.S. Retorts to anything our older cousins would throw at us would typically consist of the following three points:
Discussions of sports never seemed to make much sense when despite the fact that the Greeks invented the Olympic Games, its track record during the 1980s was pretty sorry. U.S. Soccer was virtually nonexistent during this time and Greece winning the European Basketball Championship in 1987 was a decent accomplishment, but c’mon they were playing against other Europeans, right? (Big deal.)
The rise of ESPN, the birth of the Internet, and the falling from grace of some of America’s most prominent sports and political figures in the 90s (think O.J. Simpson, Bill Clinton) finally made it acceptable to start rooting for Greece when pitted against the U.S. ESPN’s broadcasts of the 1994 World Cup and the World Basketball Championships from Toronto later that summer was probably the first time we had ever watched a Greek team sport with commentary in English. While we all knew what happened to Greece’s World Cup team that summer, Greece’s National Basketball team fared much better. Unfortunately Greece was on the business end of a 97-58 rout at the hands of “Dream Team 2” back when “Dream Team” actually meant something. But the stat we were able to tout to our fellow Americans who were watching those games with us was that we were the first and only team in that tournament to hold the U.S. under 100 points. (Greece eventually finished 4th in those World Championships.) Looking back we didn’t realize that Greece and the U.S. met again in the World Championships four years later for the bronze medal. (The Internet made it possible to track Greece’s non-televised matched that led to these defeats at the hands of the U.S.)
The “Golden Age” of competition between Greece and the U.S. was probably at the 2004 Olympics. As the host nation, Greece had teams in sports that it normally wouldn’t even qualify in, with rosters filled with Greek-Americans. And for some reason they met up against the U.S. in almost every sport that summer. There was never an easier time to be a fan of Greece against the U.S., as the host country and typically the underdog in most of these events, sometimes with rosters full of Greek-Americans. (And if you were lucky enough to be at one of these matches, particularly the U.S.-Greece matches in basketball and volleyball specifically, you had no choice but to root for Greece for fear of getting pelted with a newly-minted Euro or throwback drachma in the stands.)
So with both teams winning their first three matches in this year’s World Basketball Championships, (Greece in more dramatic fashion) thoughts of a U.S.-Greece late round face-off abound. Despite the drubbing that USA Basketball has been getting in International Competition at the Olympics and World Basketball Championships in recent years it still won’t be hard not to root for Greece. For the first time though, we won’t feel too upset if the U.S. does win. Frankly, the U.S. is in greater need of a morale boost internationally than Greece these days, and sport is a simple way to achieve that result. For the sake of both teams though, and for the sake of the internal struggle with the rivalry inside all Greek-Americans, a blowout by either team would ironically be the best result, only if either team goes on to win the whole thing.