You Talkin' to Me? Future rulers

Posted: June 19, 2010

From: Harrington, Michael

To: Fagan, Kate; Tannenwald, Jonathan

Subject: Roundball vs. round ball

A few years ago, the Observer published an article wondering why some American sports fans hate soccer. What stuck with me was an online comment on the piece, opining that the reason is because the United States is not the absolute, unbeatable best at the sport (see 1992 Olympics, Dream Team).

The article also made the point that basketball is probably the one American sport that can become as big globally as soccer is now. (When I was in France once, I wanted to talk about Thierry Henry, but they all wanted to talk about Allen Iverson.)

All you need is a hoop and a ball - when it really catches on in the favelas of Rio and the playgrounds in Shanghai, watch out. We'll have company at the top.

So, what happens when the Brazilians and the Chinese and - gulp - the French are the best in the world at hoops, and we're at the level England is in soccer, not quite tops anymore in a sport we invented?

From: Tannenwald, Jonathan

To: Michael Harrington; Fagan, Kate

Subject: Roundball vs. round ball

I'm not so convinced that will happen. Look at what Canada has done in hockey - it invented the sport and still is producing world-class talent. I think if the United States can keep producing skilled basketball players who are willing to play together, then it can remain the best internationally.

But if people in American basketball continue to value athleticism and power over skill and defense, then the United States will struggle.

From: Harrington, Michael

To: Fagan, Kate; Tannenwald, Jonathan

Subject: Roundball vs. round ball

England has always been one of the best soccer nations and has, arguably, the best pro league in the world. But it hasn't won a World Cup since 1966, the only time it's even been to the final. When you think international soccer, Brazil, Italy, Germany, and Argentina come to mind. In hockey, Canada is still the best, but it is being pushed by the United States, Russia, and the Scandinavian countries. Even in baseball, Latin America and Japan are producing players who can compete here. But think basketball and it's pretty much U.S.A. all the way.

From: Fagan, Kate

To: Harrington, Michael; Tannenwald, Jonathan

Subject: Re: Roundball vs. round ball

I don't believe the United States will ever be anything less than one of the best basketball countries in the world, and I believe that in the next 15 to 20 years, it will become a consistent soccer power, too.

Maybe that's just typically American, but it's a numbers game - and a money game - and the United States won't continue to ignore something so globally powerful.

The basketball model changed for the 2008 Olympics - from just tossing the 12 best onto the team to focusing on filling actual roles within the team - and that's all that was needed to return the United States to the top.

As far as soccer, we're behind, obviously, because our best athletes are more likely to play basketball, football, and baseball.

From: Harrington, Michael

To: Fagan, Kate; Tannenwald, Jonathan

Subject: Roundball vs. round ball

I agree - the question with soccer is if it can grab players and fans away from four major sports here.

It's kind of an interesting exercise - where might some of these international players be if they were Americans? Didier Drogba a smashmouth linebacker? Lionel Messi a slick shortstop? Wayne Rooney a scoring defenseman? Peter Crouch a shooting guard?

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