the underdog is the only dog, ch. 2

August 4, 2012 — Every morning should begin with an underdog story.

Today, the Lithuanian men’s basketball team provided the inspiration as they fought Team USA to the very end. And despite the fact that Team USA prevailed, 99-94, I think Lithuania told us more about ourselves than the Dream Team (or the Redeem Team or whatever you want to call this version of the U.S. men’s basketball Olympians).

Because Lithuania played together with a plan executed with precision and determination in the face of staggering odds against them. The Lithuanians led, 84-82, with 5:50 to go and, from what I saw, could have toppled Team USA if the Americans had balked at all in the final five minutes.

“You got no fear of the underdog/That’s why you will not survive,” belted Spoon in the song “The Underdog” off its 2007 album “Ga ga ga ga ga.” Even though that album is five years old, Spoon could have been presciently serenading Team USA in London today.

Thanks mostly to LeBron James, whom I assume is so tired of being the toppled Goliath that he has a stronger “don’t let this happen” reflex than just about anyone on the planet, Team USA ducked Lithuania.

To be honest, I slept in and turned the TV to NBC just in time to hear Dan Patrick announce that Team USA trailed by two points in the fourth quarter, which is the only reason I watched any of this basketball game. By the time I flipped to the Olympic basketball channel (my expensive cable TV package is pulling its weight these day), Team USA led by a point with less than five minutes remaining in regulation. Even though Lithuania never led while I was watching the closing minutes of the game, I could see how they stayed so close throughout the rest of the contest.

Even as James took over on the offensive end, scoring seven consecutive vital points for Team USA, Lithuania answered pretty consistently. The Lithuanian post backed down Kevin Durant and then dropped in a baby hook. They scored another basket with a sweet pass down the lane.

Lithuania kept fighting, kept giving themselves a chance to grasp one of the most dramatic upsets in the history of hoops. It didn’t happen, but that doesn’t diminish their role as heroic underdogs.

And for the record, I wanted to see Lithuania best Team USA. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way, nor do I think it makes me/us antipatriotic. It’s amazing to see James, Kobe Bryant, Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams, etc., play together. It’s a little disgusting to watch them score 156 points while pummeling Nigeria by 83, and it was eye-opening to see James take matters into his own hands when it became panic-button time in the fourth quarter against Lithuania.

So I will never cheer for this Team USA, because every time it’s close I will want the underdogs to finish what they started.

I love America, just not as much as I love the underdog.

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