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USA Basketball’s and the WNBA’s blind loyalty to a Bird and a bull

Jun 27, 2021

Dear Reader: This article is featured in The Hard Screen’s June 2021 newsletter that also includes a sneak peak at my official 2021 WNBA All-Star ballot, #HardScreens galore (on Kelsey Plum’s snub for Western Conference Player of the Week, and more), plus a dose of (animalistic) whimsy. Please enjoy the following excerpt.   

By Tamryn Spruill

USA Basketball’s announcement of the roster heading to the Tokyo Olympics next month set off a firestorm on social media and beyond about decisions many consider to be dripping in favoritism towards players who came out of the Geno Auriemma’s Connecticut program; Auriemma served as head coach of the USA Basketball women’s national team until 2018, when Dawn Staley took over.

And now, with Sue Bird, 40, and Diana Taurasi, 39, chasing their fifth gold medals dating back to the 2000 Sydney Olympics, USA Basketball and the WNBA are eagerly pushing this narrative while choosing to gloss over the facts of: a) Bird’s and Taurasi’s beat-up, aging bodies and the liabilities they potentially pose for Team USA’s quest for a seventh consecutive gold medal and b) the players not named Bird and Taurasi who yet again have been edged out of an opportunity to represent the U.S. on the world stage.

The complaints are not just about age.

Sylvia Fowles, for example, is 35 and playing some of the best basketball of her career. While she physically is ready to compete for gold in Tokyo, she already has won three Olympic gold medals and her pursuit of a fourth denies another player the chance to pursue even one.  It will be the third Olympic Games for Tina Charles (32). Breanna Stewart (26) and Brittney Griner (30) are in pursuit of their second Olympic gold medals to match their two World Cup victories. It will be the first Olympic Games for Jewell Loyd (27) and A’ja Wilson (24), who both helped Team USA win the FIBA World Cup in 2018. Stepping into international competition for the first time are Ariel Atkins (24), Napheesa Collier (24), Skylar Diggins-Smith (30) and Chelsea Gray (28).

But there is the equally-pertinent topic of injuries. Elena Delle Donne (31) helped the U.S. win gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics. But offseason back surgery has kept her sidelined thus far in the 2021 season and she was not chosen for the Olympic team.

So, what about Nneka Ogwumike (31), a nine-year veteran who in the span of an illustrious career won a championship and was voted league MVP in 2016, made six All-Star appearances, was voted Rookie of the Year in 2012 after being drafted as the No. 1 overall pick, made the All-WNBA team four times (including one First Team designation in 2016) and has been a fixture in Olympic training camps, exhibition games and qualifying tournaments?

Ogwumike has been sidelined with a knee injury this WNBA season. By USA Basketball’s own standards, however, this fact alone should not exclude Ogwumike from the team, especially not when Ogwumike has tallied a 54-5 USA Basketball record that includes two FIBA World Cup gold medals (2014, 2018).

But what about her winning record is not good enough for USA Basketball and its selection committee?

USA Basketball is ‘fraudulent as hell’

According to former player Devereaux Peters, USA Basketball and its selection committee have been “fraudulent as hell for eternity because of the BS they spew to players about the process.”

It makes total sense that Peters would go there considering the gauche manner in which Candace Parker was left off the team heading to the 2016 Rio Olympics. In 2018, Parker spoke out in an interview about the reasons USA Basketball’s decision was so hurtful.

Those reasons included:

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