Do you remember the years after Michael Jordan retired from the Bulls the second time and the NBA felt like a long commercial break until NFL and college football season? Do you remember the parade of Next Michael Jordans who never quite lived up to the hype — Harold Miner, J.R. Rider, Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter and even Kobe Bryant?
Jordan lifted the NBA so high the league had no choice but to momentarily descend back to earth.
Michael Phelps, with his eight gold medals in Beijing, might have done the same thing to the London Olympics.
Monday night it occurred to me that Beijing Phelps isn’t walking back through that door. Beijing Phelps won’t be replaced by Ryan Lochte or Missy Franklin or the men’s gymnastics team or anyone else sporting the red, white and blue. Oh, Missy Franklin might win multiple gold medals — she won the 100-meter backstroke Monday night — but the 17-year-old won’t win eight, and she’s highly unlikely to become a transcendent star no matter how hard NBC tries to make her compelling.
Phelps set the bar so high in 2008 that there’s no way for an American athlete to create the kind of excitement he generated four years ago.
After whipping Phelps in the 400 IM on Saturday, Lochte has bombed in his next two events. The French walked him down in a relay, and Monday night Lochte finished out of the money in the 200-meter freestyle. Lochte is a nice Olympic story. He’s not a superstar, the heir to Phelps.
The USA men’s gymnastics team wet the bed Monday. The team performed beautifully in the qualifying round and then went Humpty Dumpty when it really mattered. Seriously, our male gymnasts stumbled and fell so much that I doubt any of them could’ve passed a field sobriety test.
Jamaican sprinters Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake are the stars of track and field. We don’t have a Carl Lewis or an Edwin Moses or a Michael Johnson.
The foreign media love our latest edition of the Dream Team. But Americans are somewhat bored by LeBron, Kobe, Durant and ’Melo. You know how I know we’re bored by this group? Because the only interesting thing to discuss about them is their silly belief that they could come within 20 points of the real Dream Team. This team’s relevance at home is totally attached to the 1992 team. Dream Team 2012 bores us.
Whatever success the US women’s gymnasts have Tuesday — and they won the team gold medal — will be slightly dampened by Jordyn Wieber’s shockingly poor performance Sunday. She didn’t qualify for the all-around. Still, our female gymnasts are our best hope for stardom. We hadn’t won the team gold since 1996. But it would take a Kerri Strug-on-one-good-ankle landing for the victory to really resonate.
Right now, in terms of can’t-forget signature moments, this Olympics is going to be remembered for faux Twitter outrage. Athletes are getting sent home for saying dumb (spit) on Twitter, and they’re protesting the IOC’s ban on athletes thanking their non-IOC-fleeced sponsors.
Thank God there wasn’t Twitter in the 1960s. John Carlos and Tommie Smith would’ve never raised black-gloved fists. A powerful, unforgettable, righteous act of defiance would’ve been watered down to 140 characters: “I’m an American hero on this medal stand in Mexico City and a second-class citizen the minute I step off the plane in Alabama.”
Damn, that would’ve been pretty powerful, too.
Anyway, Twitter is a bigger star in these Olympics than any of our athletes. NBC and Twitter shut down the account of a critic who had been complaining about the network’s tape-delayed coverage of the games. The critic tweeted out the work email address of the NBC executive he believes is responsible for the delayed coverage.
Here’s what’s worse than no superstar emerging for the Americans. I’m growing concerned China is going to beat us in the overall medal count. We’re neck and neck right now.
We haven’t lost the overall medal total since 1992, when the Unified Team (a collection of countries from the former Soviet Union) beat us 112-108. Look, we now know the Soviets were very good with the needle and used all sorts of underhanded methods to dominate the Olympics. That’s not said to suggest we didn’t know how to handle an anabolic needle, too, but the Soviet government helped their athletes cheat. We let our athletes cheat on their own.
Of course, there are rampant rumors Chinese Olympians aren’t shy about seeking government-financed extra scientific help. We barely edged out China in the medal count in 2008. It would be disappointing to lose to the Chinese this year.
If we did, and given our Michael Phelps hangover, this could be the most disappointing Olympics since Jimmy Carter kept our team at home in 1980.