Monday, November 06, 2006
Has the USA lost its sports mojo???
Recently I was watching and NHL hockey game, and it struck me just how many of the players are foreign born. The NHL should literally be renamed something like the International Hockey League, as so many of the players are foreign born, and not just from North America countries of Canada and USA. While the Canadian born players are still the leaders both in terms of sheer numbers and in all-time hockey greats, the European born players are catching up. The NHL is already starting to resemble European Football leagues like the English Premiership and Spain's La Liga where players from all 6 continents compete on a weekly basis. For sure the best up and coming young players from the NHL are from Europe, and looking at past draft history that is not going to change anytime soon. All this thinking had me wondering if the USA as a country has lost our sports mojo. While without a doubt we can claim the best players in NFL Football, at the same time we are basically the only country in the world where the game is played. All the others sports that are played on a national basis, it can be argued we don't develop the best players.
The NBA is still dominated by mostly Black, mostly American players, but more and more Europeans and even South Americans are coming to play. While well known players like Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are foreign born and have played major roles on teams winning the Championship, did you know there are 80 foreign born players making up roughly 20?% of the league from 35 different countries. The Toronto Raptors have not 1 but 2 Slovenian players(Rasho Nesterovic and Uros Slokar) from a country of 2 million people smaller than New Jersey.
Yet looking at recent performances in International basketball tournaments it can be said we aren't the best in the world. At the recent FIBA World Championships our team finished 3rd place. True we have won the 1996, and 2000 Olympics, but the 2004 Olympic performance while missing some of the best players due to "terrorism fears" we lost. Who knows if for the 2008 Olympics our best players will go, or claim the long travel to China as a reason for not going. I mean these players are already making untold millions(just look at the Knicks giving Jalen Rose nearly $15 Million dollars to GO AWAY) and they want to spend their summer vacations driving around their fleet of cars.
Other sports are no better, in Baseball, once thought the dominant sport, in the recent World Baseball Classic we simple sucked. While it can be said the timing of the event was not good during spring training, we lost of Canada and Mexico our 2 north American neighbors. The biggest biding frenzy this off-season is for some Japanese Pitcher, Daisuke Matsuzaka who few fans have ever seen pitched. The best offensive players seem to come from the Domician Republic, Venezuela or other places these days. We won the Olympics in 2000, but this sport with its limited worldwide appeal is being dropped from the Olympics after the 2008 games, the first sport dropped from the summer Olympics since Polo at the 1936 Berlin Games. Not something to be proud of for the game of baseball as it only became an Olympic sport in 1992.
Golf??? Well you can't really consider it a team game, just as much as Speed Skating was made out to be a team sport at these past Winter Olympics with the controversy between Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick. The recent performance in the Ryder Cups shows the USA either doesn't play well on the big stage, or simply aren't the best golfers in the world. That is the 3rd straight Ryder Cup we have lost and in recent memory have only won the 1993 and 1999 Cups. I don't watch the event anyway as this year the time delay coverage was boring and horrible. While I can understand simple stroke play golf, I have NO IDEA what four-balls or foursomes are other than a potential kinky sexual event!
Hockey, well my favorite sport is being overtaken by Europeans for sure. While I LOVE the Czech players on my NY Rangers, looking at the overall stats of the NHL its clear the foreign born players are the best right now. From today's top 20 in league scoring we find 1 American, 2 Czechs, 1 Slovakian, 9 Candaians, 2 Russians, 4 Sweedes and 1 Austrian. You are telling me the best player in the USA hockey is equal to the best Austrian player?(Thomas Vanek for those not in the know). The recent drafts don't show much promise for American players, in the past 3 NHL drafts, there have been 24 out of 90 players of USA decent taken in the first round. While this percentage of 26% is higher than the current 17.7% of NHL players, wait a minute. Of these 24 players taken, only 2.. yes only 2 have even PLAYED for their NHL team.. Only one of these Phil Kessel has even scored a goal. Yet when you look at the Sidney Crosby, Alex Overchkin, Evegni Malkin, Anze Kopitar and the rest of some of the 1st round foreign born players making an impact now its makes you wonder how many of the 24 Americans are going to pan out.. Watching any of these young players is a treat, last week got to watch the Rangers killed by the LA Kings and this 19 year old Slovenian player Kopitar was all over the ice, everywhere you looked he was in on a play.
So where does this leave the USA? Well it basically means that SOCCER, yes some of your call it football, but that Soccer is the USA's only hope of fielding a team that will compete on an International level to sucess. While this past 2006 World Cup as experienced in person the USA put on a totally embarrassing showing, the future is bright. There are many challenges, and by no means are we about to produce as many quality soccer players as a Brazil, its our nations only hope.. more on this on my next entry as to how Soccer can save the egg on the USA face in International sporting events...