Patriotism is one thing, loyalty another

Updated: June 29, 2004, 9:25 AM ET
By Ray Ratto | Special to ESPN.com

David Stern really believes in the Olympic Ideal, which is why he wears his Doctor Octopus suit when the topic of the NBA getting out of the Games comes up. He has too much time, energy and market share invested to fold 'em now.

Still, the NBA has so many more important fish to fry these days that the players' performance in Athens is purely Page Eight stuff. They either win and everyone yawns, or they lose and everyone yawns because the best and the brightest decided to chill back home.

In fact, most teams' management hates the idea as well. Even the Charlotte Bobcats, the NBA's newest team and therefore by definition the one with the least amount of corporate/marketing/league office leverage, wish out loud they could convince Emeka Okafor to skip Greece to get that master's degree in blocking out.

But the biggest reason this is a bad year for the league to Olympicize is that there is way juicier stuff going on here for anyone to spend much time sweating out the Slovenes.

The Lakers, you know about. Kobe wins the franchise but might leave. Phil loses Kobe and does leave. Shaq loses interest in the circus and insists upon leaving. Oh, and the trial starts in August. Somehow that Olympic update at 28/58 after the hour doesn't seem so vital.

Tracy McGrady still has two cities, Orlando and Houston, gripped by the news of his future. So does Steve Francis. Nearer New York, the Nets are trying to decide whether they can whack Kerry Kittles so they can have enough money to decide whether they can sign Kenyon Martin or Jason Kidd. Across the league, big-name players are in play as never before, and that means the teams not losing players are interested in the players they might get.

The freshest rumor has Kidd potentially going to -- Wait for this! -- the Warriors, on the theory that he wants to be closer to his boyhood home as well as the big fish in a tumbler of distilled water. How Golden State is supposed to fit him under its cap even after Erick Dampier opts out remains more trickery than strategy, but hey, it's the Warriors, and man does not live by 18-year-old Latvian draft choices alone.

Now it doesn't matter how it shakes out, either for Kidd or anyone else. They'll all end up playing somewhere, or somewhere else, and the speculation that fuels those stories beats The Dream Team Everyone Dreamt Of Leaving.

Now this is not some sort of anti-patriotic screed about the Olympics being unimportant in and of themselves. If you like to fly the flag and flex your various 'ceps (bi-, tri-, quadra-, etc.) over dope-clubbing Andorra in some sport they don't even play in Andorra, good for you. You get to vote your stock your way.

And this is not some cheap attempt to make Larry Brown feel like the guy with gum on the seat of his suit pants. He has struggled to persuade players to come with him to Athens, to the point where players such as Okafor are hugely important to avoid that sixth-place finish that will put the team on Page 1.

But facts are facts. Whatever the power of the Olympics, they don't stand a chance against the more telling weight of Bryant's rape trial -- Let's see here, the opening ceremonies or jury selection ... jury selection or the opening ceremonies ... ohh, the agony of choice -- let alone O'Neal's wanderlust, McGrady's whereabouts or Kidd's homing instincts. There has never been an offseason this weird, ever, and that includes the Yankees-Red Sox spitfest last winter.

Now next to that, what possible hope do the Olympics have of making you care?

Let me answer that for you. None. Watching them is strictly an eat-your-vegetables kind of exercise, so much so that Bobcats general manager Ed Tapscott wants his first draft choice ever to lay off the fiber and get busy with the comparative junk food of summer camps.

Thus, while you're hailing Okafor for his principled stand on behalf of Ol' Glory, make sure you also admit to yourselves that you won't be watching him make that stand.

Not unless he gets traded, cut or in trouble with the law. That's the NBA we know now.

So go team. Just keep the noise down, or we'll call the cops.

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com

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