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updated: 8/4/2012 7:59 PM

Is there an obligation to wave U.S. flag?

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  • LeBron James and Team USA defeated Lithuania 99-94 on Saturday, but is it unpatriotic to really care which team won?

    LeBron James and Team USA defeated Lithuania 99-94 on Saturday, but is it unpatriotic to really care which team won?
    Associated Press


A strange sensation came over me while watching the United States-Lithuania men's basketball game Saturday.

It wasn't strange for me but would be for most Americans.

You see, I didn't care which team won.

The game was on TV shortly after Barack Obama and Eric Kantor were on the radio urging on American Olympians during their respective morning addresses to the nation.

The Olympics apparently are the one topic Democrats and Republicans can agree on, whether our athletes are in the top 1 percent or the lower 99 percent of the economic scale.

Personally I wasn't worried when the U.S. held a slim halftime lead, fell behind in the third quarter and still trailed with five minutes left in the game. Nor was it all that exhilarating when our guys surged late for a 99-94 victory.

Compelling to me were the terrific plays down the stretch by LeBron James and Chris Paul that rescued the U.S. But just as interesting and impressive was the way the undermanned Lithuanians challenged the Americans to the end.

Individual artistry -- by Americans or anyone else -- is what occasionally prompts me to take notice during the Olympics no matter who wins.

If the artists are the Missys, Mistys and Gabbys of America, that's great. If they're the Sergeis, Pierres and Hidekis of the planet, that's great too.

When an Australian swimmer breaks a record, that isn't any less noteworthy than when an American shot putter breaks one.

Is it unpatriotic to suggest that? Is it incumbent upon all of us to wave the flag? Are we obligated to think it matters whether the U.S. medals in water polo?

I go through this during every Olympics. First, I say that the games don't appeal to me much. Then I add that I'm not fixated on the United States athletes beating out the rest of the world.

Trust me, I love this country. We certainly can do better and hopefully are trying to, but we're the envy of the planet regardless.

The U.S. doesn't have to win at every event to prove we're the envy of the Earth. Foreigners struggling to get here, legally and illegally, prove that even in non-Olympic years.

All that our gymnasts, equestrians and kayakers should have to do is their best to be labeled a success. None of them, or any of us by extension, should be defined by the final standings in volleyball, boxing and cycling.

More meaningful is the courage American men and women demonstrate in Afghanistan under more adverse circumstances. We better hope they reflect who we are more than anything we accomplish in field hockey, soccer and team handball does.

Better yet, let's judge ourselves by how many American humanitarians are in third-world countries trying to solve problems and save lives.

So much of that goes unnoticed, unheralded and to a great extent underappreciated compared to, say, the fame and fortune that Michael Phelps enjoys.

Hopefully those activities abroad are who we really are. OK, so weightlifters, wrestlers and fencers are too, but only secondarily.

Whoever wins those events don't signal that their countries' political processes, economic systems and standards of living are better or worse than anybody else's. Nothing changes in global society because of medal standings.

The Olympics -- including the U.S.-Lithuania basketball game -- essentially are reality-TV programming packaged differently.

If they were more important they'd be called something other than Games.

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