Here’s the story of Becky Hammon.
Becky grew up in Rapid City, South Dakota …. very middle America …. grows up like most middle American kids: God and country.
Bekcy, as it turns out, also is one heck of a basketball player: she was “Miss South Dakota Basketball” her senior year, and an All-American at Colorado State … is the all-time (mens and womens) scorer in the history of the Western Athletic Conference. She was the Colorado Sportswoman of the year (not Colorado State … the whole state of Colorado). Her jersey is now retired. Today, she plays in the WNBA for the San Antonio Silver Stars. She averaged over 18 points-per-game. By any definition, a success. So great a player and strong a personality, ESPN even let her help cover the NBA as a sideline reporter.
So successful in fact that unlike many athletes that take it easy during the off season, Becky keeps playing. She played in Spain for a while … then moved to Russia. Early in 2008, she was granted Russian citizenship despite having no Russian ancestry.
Not a big deal so far.
Except 2008, as some of you may recall, is the year of that big sports thing going on in Beijing.
Despite her being really good, Becky did not get a call to try out for Team USA. So, when the Russians called and invited her to have a spot on their team, she jumped at it! Going from “no chance to play in the Olympics” to “we want you” is something one can hardly pass up.
Here’s the sticky wicket. No sooner does she sign on with the Russians, than Team USA comes a-knocking. She of course is already committed to play for Russia. On top of that, she feels that it is not a real serious offer, and that she likely will not have a shot at making the team.
Team USA’s head coach Anne Donovan by painting her as a traitor to the United States.
Now lets look at that a moment.
The Olympics are a necessarily flawed entity. There are a hundred and one ways to be “eligible” to play for a nation, one of which is the old “passport in hand” way. That is: if you are issued a passport by a country, you can compete for that country (in the technical terminology, this is often called “passport of convenience”). This is hardly new …. many nations have gone hunting in the U.S. et. al. for athletes with some skill, and have been offered a free ticket to the Olympics for the price of having dual citizenship. Not a bad price, really! If people knew how often this really went on, they would begin to understand why the United States gets looked at oddly by the rest of the world for approaching the Olympics so seriously and so gingoistically. In fact a great many athletes running, swimming, tossing, leaping, biking, sailing, shooting, and rowing in the Olympics for “other nations” are in fact not what most people would call “home grown citizens”. So, to label Becky Harmon a traitor in this regard is laughable. Is it perhaps the “to the core” most ethical thing. Maybe not, but its in the rules as being perfectly legal, and until that changes, it happens.
As I recall, some 16 out of the 24 members of the Greek Baseball team in the 2004 games had never set foot in the nation of Greece until the games started. They were all Americans of Greek parentage ….. they didn’t even have Greek passports. Did anyone complain? No. It was a laughable curiosity that Greece recruited players from far and wide to play for them. At least they did not finish last!
So is Becky Hammon a traitor. I don’t think so. Her country said “we don’t need you”, and she opted to play for a team that wanted her. There’s really no sign this was a “passport of convenience” which is as close as one might come to saying that something is really fishy here. It’s like the same ridiculousness that occurs when a Red Sawx player gets let go, and then plays for the Yankees. The Red Sawx fans say “How could you …. you traitor …” even though it was the Red Sox that said b’ bye.
Keep this in mind when you watch the Olympics, and wonder how that great swimmer from down the block is in the starting blocks with a swimming cap that says “Grenada” on it.