Olympic Basketball vs. NBA Basketball
Midway through the first half of the Argentina-Lithuania men's basketball game, it became clear that something was seriously amiss with Olympic roundball. The between-quarter entertainment started promisingly enough: two bizarre Olympic mascots ran out on the court, accompanied by the same sort of chipper young uniformed support staff who might work an NBA halftime show, carrying large pads and a trampoline.
The mascots encouraged the fans to clap along. The fans complied. The mascots went to mid-court and got running starts. Then an ABA halftime show broke out.
Huanhuan the Olympic Flame took a sickly jump off the trampoline and got stuffed by the rim. Yingying the Tibetan Antelope evidently got spooked and fared even worse, toppling over sideways after his missed dunk. It was the worst attempted dunk by a bright orange two-footed Tibetan Antelope I've ever seen.
By now the fans were no longer clapping. More like staring. Huanhuan stood on his hands and tried clapping with his airborne feet. Then Yingying went down the lane and lobbed an alley-oop to the charging Huanhuan, who failed even to catch the ball and collapsed on the ground. Yingying went to halfcourt and demanded the crowd's attention for an over-the-head prayer. It was an airball. They left the court in disgrace.
Indeed, through the four games that I watched, nearly every element that hinted of the NBA--besides the actual players--wound up just slightly off-key, a few whistles short of a Donaghy.
Like the hot dogs. They started out life the way any good hot dog ought, spinning happily in their own juices, just like they do in the big leagues. But what happened when an Australian customer requests four? The concessionaires grabbed four sticks, speared four dogs and handed them out like so, grease dripping down the poor Aussie's arm.
Or the cheerleaders, better known as Beijing Dream Dancers. Sometimes, they'd come out in skimpy NBA dance team-style outfits, featuring as much fabric as one of Yao's socks, and all the fans would scream and take pictures. Other times they'd perform some sort of basketball chest-pass routine to the strains of lethargic classical music. Imagine rhythmic gymnastics on Ambien. This was an excellent time to listen to the sound of basketball shoes squeaking in the huddle.
The Dance Cam? Well, no one did the Sprinkler, and no little boys ripped off their shirts. The opening tip? "Let's play ball!" the announcer would say. The catapult t-shirt toss? Maybe a dozen of those tightly wrapped projectiles flew into the crowd. The Kiss Cam? Yeah right.
Sure, there were highlights. One timeout dunk squad came out wearing brown Obi-Wan Kenobi robes, which they shed before launching into a successful high-flying trampoline routine, although the act was sullied when one of the performers landed on his face and had to be helped off the court. The eight dancing dragons were sprightly enough. The "If You're Happy and You Know It Clap Your Hands [Clap Clap]" organ music conjured memories of F Street. And the inflatable Olympic mascots with herky jerky movements, reminiscent of GW's Big George, were a huge hit with fans and media members alike.
Until they tried leaving the floor, when Huanhuan the Giant Red Inflatable Olympic Flame lost his footing and crashed to the ground.
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