Struggling to contract Olympic fever — Sue Bird talks flag-bearer duties — Must-click women’s basketball links

The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, July 21, 2021

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I know I’ll get there.

The Olympics is too enticing an experience for me to be this disconnected from it, here on the eve of all the action (and if you’re following USWNT in soccer, after it begins!). I don’t feel anything like reticence about covering the games — it is a reporter’s job — nor do I begrudge those who are fully immersed already.

But it’s been difficult, at best, to get truly excited, with COVID-19 stalking Japan, with so many friends of mine covering, so many athletes and coaches I respect in the country.

It didn’t help to see the lifeless performances out of Team USA on the women’s basketball side, something I’m told by a team insider had more to do with the total obligations for the team than anything basketball-based, but still an alarming pair of games out of a group that should win gold easily.

It’s a regular thing in the sports world that we cannot separate the pure joy from the financial opportunism, that when those who should be celebrated do well, so often, the villains manage to do even better as a result.

So it continues, the way we process the world since last March: hopeful, yet cautious. Invigorated by joy, yet holding our breath as it happens. Since last March, every victory is like a touchdown with a flag on the play, all of us holding back some of our emotional capacity in case it gets called back.

Sue Bird’s going to carry the flag and my children are going to see it. Unexpected new athletes will break out and win our hearts. I get to watch the Israeli baseball team play in the Olympics. (Though even that is fraught!) Softball has finally ascended to its rightful place at the games as well. We might not see Megan Rapinoe play again in the Olympics, we have waited five years for all of this.

But over the past week, it’s been hard to shake how many athletes we aren’t going to see, too. The news that Elizabeth Williams and Nneka Ogwumike were denied the chance to play for Nigeria came shortly after Liz Cambage’s exit from the Australian national team, and just on the heels of Katie Lou Samuelson losing her spot on the USA Basketball 3X3 team due to COVID.

It’s particularly rough to see Samuelson, an all-world talent who has been plagued by injuries dating back to her time at UConn, lose this chance so close to the games. I remember talking with her at a USA Basketball training even before COVID, her rueful laugh when I suggested she was due for some good health.

We all are. The joy of the Olympics, for all the cynical reasons it will exist, still counts as joy — for the athletes who have worked so hard to achieve it, for all of us who have lived through unimaginable heartache.

I’ll get there. I’m just not there yet. Are you? Let me know how you’re feeling about it all in the comments!

This week in women’s basketball

Jackie Powell took you behind the scenes in Vegas.

Tamika Catchings joined the Knuckleheads podcast.

I wrote about the WNBA and Oakland at Forbes.

Good stuff here by Tessa Nichols. Perhaps a consequence of the games this past week is we can avoid that outcome this time around.

Dana Lee explores Betnijah Laney’s rise.

Smart takes from Chantel Jennings, as always.

Mitchell Northam on Kahleah Copper, Philly product.

LOCALIZE it: the Courant has all your Connecticut-Olympic ties here.

This isn’t basketball per se, but it’s really worth your time, from Bria Felicien (who is ALWAYS worth your time).

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Five at The IX: Sue Bird talks flag bearing!

Click on Sue to listen

Sue Bird. (Screenshot from Zoom avail)

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By Sarah Kellam @sarahkellam, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By Jessica Taylor Price, @jesstaylorprice, Freelance Gymnastics Writer

Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.