Game of Allies

The crossover between politics and sports is really not as far fetched as it might seem.  Yes, asking Wayne Rooney to explain public policy solutions to the mortgage crisis while expecting Eric Cantor to single off a curveball (what a loser) are arguments to counter.  But while the end results (one using numbers to objectively assess athletic ability, the other using numbers to run a society — no big difference!), the means, measures, and tactics involved with being a member of the viewing public following either endeavor are really a similar feat.  I mean, just look at the production aspects of any political debate table on CNN, FoxNews, etc. and then flip to the Stephen A Smith/Skip Bayless  for further evidence.  If you want, put aside the content of what their saying and witness the veracity in the back and forth.

Some of the biggest arguments I’ve ever had involved these two topics (with food and trying to make sense of a significant other’s rantings taking honorable mentions).  Finding ways to explain one with the other has always been a favorite pastime of mine.  In fact, I would argue that trying to understand the dynamics of why what happens in politics through examples from the sports world should eventually be included in the higher annals of tertiary studies.  If Physical Education was a required class at the U (niversity of Mary Washington), then why not Sports Analytics as a Poli Sci requirement?  Then again, given that 40% of the country votes Republican and their comprehension of sports begins with NASCAR and ends with being wealthy and not caring about sports, its probably a pipedream.

With that being said, let me put to use over $100k in undergraduate and graduate education related to International Relations and Politics to hash out the age old question:  If America’s NATO and Major non-NATO Allies (MNNAs) were members of the 2012 USA Men’s Basketball team, which players would they match up with?  Here we go…

Anthony Davis – Afghanistan

Both are new entrants to their respective fields: professional basketball and professional nation-state.  Of course, like all untested talent that comes out of college, we won’t know who successful the Unibrow will be until he’s got a few rounds against actual basketball under his belt.  Going through the rigors of international basketball play with and against a collection of the world’s top talent is a good start.  Much like how the newest member to the MNNA list, as of 2012, has gotten quite the eclectic group of the best of the best mentors (many nations being on this list) from the NATO led International Assistance Security Force (ISAF).  Of course, like any rough start to a relationship, the flaws are many and apparent.  With youth comes a lack of size and experience that can easily be sunk against competition that has been weathered with a determination to sink your efforts, whether that’s a veteran defender or the Taliban.  Also the hair on both sides is just impressive.  So, with the amount of money sunk into both projects, expectations should be high, but not high enough that should either falter there’s always the next draft/war.

Andre Iguodala – Israel

Even though the Sixers tried for several years to the contrary, no one would ever consider Andre Iguodala a superstar talent, much like how no one would ever confuse Israel for anything close to a superpower nation.  Yes, each are tough, hard-nosed competitors that are extremely complimentary to the players around them.  And yes, their best assets focus on shutdown defense and long range shots.  But really, when it comes to what have and will ultimately contribute to Team USA/American national security is ultimately negligible and forgettable.  When USA is down to their last 2:30 against Spain in the gold medal match (no jinxing!), the combination America throws out there will only those that bring out the best chance for America’s winning it all.  And, no offense, Iguodala is not one of those 5.  For all the attention both the American public, policy community, political discourse, and Governor Romney give to the national security of Israel, little can be said for Israel’s contributions for US national security.  Yes, they are holding the line as a democratic nation in a non-democratic region of the world, but so is the Philippines and we’re not exactly relying on them as a top US ally.  For all the (well deserved) merits the Israel military receives, their defense spending lags far behind other US allies and their contributions and assistance to US military operations during the past 2 decades is non-existent.  In fact, maybe Andre Iguodala has done more for US national security at this point, but nonetheless, you don’t build a dynasty without key bench players, and for that these two are a match.

Tyson Chandler – Italy & Spain

From one of our youngest combos to a tried and tested one.  Yes, big men are a dime a dozen much like maligned, indebted developed countries that require constant bailouts despite the lack of required financial reform and restraint needed from the recipient nations.  But I digress.  Chandler is not anyone’s #1 choice for “Superstar Big Man in the USA”, but given the age and injury concerns of usual stable of 4s and 5s (KG, Duncan, Dwight Howard), the Americans had to turn to their not top 5 choice for assistance.  But he does provide a valuable presence in specific areas (rebounding, defense).  Enter Italy and Spain.  While not blessed with massive military capabilities, it has been their reliability in the realm of naval warfare that has defined their benefit as a US military ally.  With US naval bases in both countries and impressive naval assets themselves (with 4 aircraft carriers between the two), combined $39bn in defense spending and contributions to both Iraq and Afghanistan, these two Mediterranean stalwarts are reliable anchors for US troop deployment overseas.  Now, if only they could learn to play offense.

Kevin Love – Australia & New Zealand

No, I did not pick the whitest countries of US allies to represent the token Caucasian on Team USA.  With Blake Griffin playing the high risk/high reward card, K-Love is the USA’s only other traditional forward, albeit with some quirks.  Much how like our down under brethren are pretty much the Brits and Canadians with their own quirks.  Love has developed a 3 shot to add to his already otherworldly rebounding skills.  He’s built for the direction the NBA is going in the next 10 years (smaller, quicker, inside-out forwards instead of the Duncan on the block prototype).  And as such, Australia and NZ are going to be taking center stage as the new type of US ally going forward.  After the President and DOD announced in January that a strategic shift of assets and attention to the Asia-Pacific region, a new direction in US military priorities was born, just as power forwards like Love will dominate the next generation.  While Australia and New Zealand represent a good chunk of land mass in their part of the world, size doesn’t exactly equate to overpowering force (in the paint).  Still, select skills such as anti-submarine warfare and special forces operations (a la 3 point shooting and rebounding) are clear advantages that have helped out the US in both Iraq and to this day in Afghanistan.  At this point I’ll forgo any comparisons between K-Love and a kangaroo and just move on…

James Harden – Denmark

Now, I could go the Harden/Viking beard route and end it there, but you the reader (all zero of you) deserve better.  Much like our compatriot Mr. Iguodala above, Harden is not going to be a superstar anytime soon; that time came and pass once we found out he couldn’t live up to the standards of his teammates in OKC.  Denmark has gone through a similar evolution when neighboring Sweden and Norway eventually out muscled them in the all-time Scandinavian alpha countries power rankings.  So, we don’t expect either to drop a 22/5/5 numbers every night, or for that matter be in the starting lineup either.  But every now and then, James Harden shows us why guys like him are essential to being on the winning side when the clock runs 0:00.    Many a night when KD and Westbrook are recuperating on the bench, Harden will come out and dominate like the best of them, from 3 range to penetration layups to steals on the D side, and show everyone that even though its not always, he can mean business.  Denmark, known mainly for those dried out cookies that were made in the 70s but are still somehow consumable, is as tough as it gets for the US’s allies bench.  While many ISAF contributors have been reluctant to deploy their forces into the more kinetic regions of Afghanistan, Denmark has not backed down to the task, taking up duties in the dangerous Helmand province.  Relative to their small deployment, the Danish have suffered the most per capita casualties of any ally so far.  As if their efforts in SW Asian didn’t prove their resolve for American security efforts, their contribution to the NATO air campaign in Libya was essential to that effort’s success.  Not only were Danish air assets one of the first used in the campaign, their parliament, divided along numerous ideological lines as is common in European capitals, voted unanimously to support the operation.  Good job on both ends and keep showing up for the big guys.

Deron Williams – South Korea

Using the Bill Simmons theory of “What do they bring to/take off the table” for this one.  To elaborate, most players aren’t going to bring 5-tool talents into any sports league.  Therefore, we can use the analogy of the dinner table setting for what tools are brought by player X.  Do they supply the dishes, forks, and serving ladle, but not the spoon, knives and glasses?  Can you have a meal with just what they brought?  Sure.  But don’t expect it to look/feel easy to accomplish.  Without further ado:

D-Will brings to the table: Score first point guard; almost elite passing; range on jump shot; can take over games for a period if needed

South Korea brings to the table: 12th largest defense spender ($30+ bn); highly technological military assets in all combat spaces (air, land, sea); US military base host; priority to counter top US adversary (North Korea)

D-Will takes off the table: Selfish at times (not good for a PG); moody; got his coach (the one and only Jerry Sloan) to quit after he quit on the team; only one example of playoff prowess

South Korean takes off the table: only small contributions to out of region operations; domestic political concerns re: US basing; priority to counter top US adversary (North Korea)

Are you going to have around 50 wins every season with a Deron Williams on your team?  Yes.  Are you going to rely on South Korea supporting US military actions, especially pertaining to the increasingly important Pacific Rim region?  Yes.  Is he leading your team to a title or is the first call you make when all hell breaks loose?  Probably not.

Russell Westbrook – France

We can just throw out the statistics and base this one completely on brooding, self interested personalities.  The first team All-NBA of hyped up, chest beating, nigh-on jingoist, just a bit too proud about their country/history sometimes, nationalist nations has to be the following, in no particular order: the United Kingdom, the United States, Israel, people from the South, and France.  At UCLA, Westbrook led a squad that made back-to-back Final Four appearances in ’07 and ’08.  At the height of his collegiate powers, he was considered a powerhouse unto himself.  Enter the NBA.  After joining the elite club of the world’s best basketball players, suddenly the Westbrook was cut down to his relative size.  Teammate Kevin Durant was suddenly the big dog.  Still, the talent filled Westbrook showed why he was able to steer those UCLA teams with an aggressive style of play from the point that included scoring binges and high risk/high reward shots and distribution.  After the 2011 playoffs, outsiders highlighted the potential oncoming head butting between Westbrook’s ego and de facto team alpha Durant.  But then he got paid and they both steered the team to the Finals in ’12.  Westbrook has a way of quietly taking over a game, whether KD is on or off, and can be a clutch player when needed.  He is not the prototypical assist machine/set up guy like Nash or Kidd, but the modern PG isn’t supposed to be.  Thinking a little to highly of himself to be a team player can either lead to titles or disaster.  I’ve never accepted how Americans easily bash the French for their history of military mishaps and pomposity, but this is just like that saying about kettles making a comments about blacks, or something like that.  France was once on top of the world, the self proclaimed heart of civilization with solid case to back it up.  While they know they’re no longer #1, they don’t want to admit it, especially if the hearth of culture today produces the Kardashians and Big Macs.  And rightly so!  The French military is a highly tuned, bad ass machine, contrary to uneducated American opinions, something on display with their current deployments to central Afghanistan where rough mountain terrain makes for some of the hardest fighting in the country.  Their contribution of naval assets to the Libya campaign was essential and its under reported how many French military and police units are deployed in faraway regions such as North and West Africa where American reluctance is often found.  And although it might seem annoying and counterproductive both Westbrook and the French people come across when building themselves up and playing it out with 110% effort, just know that we’d all like to think we’d to step up that way when it mattered.

Chris Paul – Canada

Old reliable.  Ultimate team player.  The table setter and crunch time regulator.  CP3 is probably the best all around point guard in the world and does the perfect balance between traditional table setter (Stockton, Nash, etc) and balls to the wall scorer (Rose, Westbrook, Iverson).  Canada itself is a hybrid nation stuck between Anglo-American individualism and Latin-European collectivism.  They drive SUVs, drink horrible watered down beer, watch football, can be rather large around the waist, and indulge horrible TV just like the rest of their neighbours to the south.  Yet, a third of their country speaks French, embraces the cafe culture, accepts what Americans would consider socialist enterprises like national health insurance and education.  Outside the 50 states, they couldn’t be more American without being American.  And that includes Puerto Rico.  Whenever we look at the map, whether its the one in every classroom of the world or the NBA version, you can’t ignore these two; they just stick out too much.  Yet, we’ve yet to see either one really take the lead globally, mainly due to their smaller stature/population, and rely on their big men (Blake Griffin, David West; the USA) to get things done.  Still, everyone loves Chris Paul and it seems that you couldn’t find a nicer, friendlier, team leader to bring together pieces that otherwise wouldn’t get along.  That and Canada practically spent 50 years protecting America’s head from Russian nukes while deploying troops to places that were wayyyyyyy hotter than even southern Ontario.  Hell, behind the US and UK, they’re practically fighting the War in Afghanistan.  Either way, we’ll always be rooting for these two if just because they are down to earth and outright awesome.

Kevin Durant – Japan

It’s all about the numbers:

KD – Career 26.3 ppg (30.1 ppg in ’10-’11); 36% career 3 point shooter, 88% career FTs; 3 time career scoring title

Japan – GDP = $5.9 trillion; population = 128 m; Defense Spending = $47 b; 239K standing forces

Without a doubt, KD is a global powerhouse.  He is known for one thing the most: production.  Everything he does, he does in bunches.  Its never surprising to see a 28/6/11 stat line from him on a rather consistent basis.  And he can score from multiple spots on the floor.  While he has the potential to take over on his own and the talent to dominate on an MJ scoring type level, he’s known as a benevolent team player believing in compromise over conflict.  The Japanese are one of the few non-NATO allies that has a mutual defense treaty with the United States, although much like NATO’s its a little one-sided.  While their economic prowess has made them a global force to be reckoned with, despite the small mass (that’s augmented by a large wingspan), Japan rarely engages in aggressive foreign policy adventures.  Instead, a calm, cool, productive approach has led to both success and complacency.  KD has slowly been improving, as has Japan’s willingness to deploy overseas, but hopefully reaching the NBA Finals will not lead to a prolonged stagnant period of getting near the top but then plateauing (see: Lost Decade, Japan’s).  Sometimes we want our superstars/superpowers to kick it into a 5th gear, but maybe they’re not wired that way.  Which brings us to…

Carmelo Anthony – Germany

The 2003 NBA Draft has gone down as one of the most top heavy talented crops in history.  The Big 3 in Miami were all selected during the draft (2 franchise players and one franchise player if on the Raptors), with 4 other all-stars, Darko Milicic (just kidding) and of course a one Carmelo Anthony.  Melo has franchise dominant player written all over him.  He led his minor league NCAA team at Syracuse to a National Title in ’03 and consistently put up monster numbers during his 7 1/2 years in Denver, averaging 25/6/3 with a peak 29/7/3 in ’09-’10.  He is one of the flew players in the league that can take over a game with confidence while instilling enough confidence in his teammates and fans to trust him to succeed.  During that peak year, he carried a Denver team with washed up Kenyon Martin and Chauncey Billups as the 2nd tier of talent (aka no talent) to the Western Conference Finals against the out for blood Kobe and the Lakers.  Again, power, potential, and high expectations have defined Melo’s career and I still hold on to hope that New York will witness that soon.  Now, feel free to turn on the Bias Filter as I compare all that to the Federal Republic of Germany.  No country in the world, save for the UK, has as much potential and value to the United States and its foreign policy endeavors as Germany.  Despite being practically wiped off the face of the earth 60 years ago and then cut in half, this nation of only 80+ million has somehow found a way to be rich.  And I don’t mean Republican small business or even Mitt Romney rich, I mean that cartoon duck that jumped into a pool of gold coins rich.  And they’ve done it while being a bunch of socialists pigs.  How dare they.  And on top of those money bags is the little they spend on defense expenditures.  After preparing for a massive land confrontation during the Cold War, the Bundeswehr is a little heavy on the land forces end, but nonetheless finds some of those troops serving in northern Afghanistan today, a prospect that  10 years ago seemed as unlikely as an African American getting elected President.  Although a professional force of only 200k, Germany still implements a draft, puts forth one of the most robust armament industries in the world, and host to most of the overseas deployed US forces.  That last point allows for the US to engage in security operations globally and has been a logistical linchpin for decades.  On top of all that, Germany still only spends $48bn on defense, a small penance relative to their GDP, and is reluctant to send troops into the Rhineland, let alone other humanitarian endeavors.  Maybe once they wrap up paying off every single other European they might get around to taking up its role as a global player, but until then, only unfilled potential.

Kobe Bryant – The United Kingdom

There’s nothing like a Special Relationship, whether its between the US and UK or Kobe and his wife (hey!).  They’re both old reliable.  Kobe is now the standard bearer of the NBA, even with the recent coronation of LeBron, and will be until further notice or when he signs with Miami in 2014.  Yes, the sun never set on either for a long time and we’ve never seen such a tenacious effort to every now and then show everyone who’s the best than with these two.  But hey, it got the Brits to spread their culture and language all around the world and it got Kobe 5 rings (which is still short of MJ, F.Y.I.).  But while Kobe is not the most team player friendly, exciting, athletic, potential filled, or dominant of Team USA, he is something you can always count on.  Always.  My god, even Dubya got a Labor PM to fight the Iraq war for god’s sake.  Still, an illustrious career coupled with an illustrious nation, Team USA had nowhere to turn to but ensure Kobe was on the team to provide that steady, experienced leadership that is key whether its a pickup game at the park or an air campaign over North Africa.

And that rounds out our Team USA players and top US allies.  Its been a great ride and thank you for indulging in my exercise in international…wait, what’s that?  I left someone out?  Oh yes, the one and only King, LeBron James.  Well it is the Olympics and patriotism trumps all.  Given that LeBron is now an unstoppable train ready to conquer the basketball world with nothing in his way to deter him but himself, there’s really only one ally that will determine how much success he will eventually achieve, and that ally is himself.  Just like the United States’ best and strongest ally is really just looking in the mirror and admiring how beautiful we Americans are.  USA! USA! USA!


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