27 April 2008

St. Croix’s Contribution to Athletic Excellence

For fans of American basketball, the beginning of the National Basketball Association (NBA) playoff competition among the leading professional teams is a very special time. Only basketball at the Olympic Games is equal in significance, if not in excitement. For those of us who have played the game at the collegiate or international levels, the playoffs reinvigorate often dormant feelings associated with “the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat and the human drama of athletic competition,” as coined by the legendary television broadcaster Chris Schenkel who we used to watch on the week - old tapes of “Wide World of Sports” television programme. The tapes had to be shipped to the territory for airing, before there was cable and satellite television.

Of the many professional players who began the 2007-08 NBA season, it is remarkable that two players from the island of St. Croix in the Virgin Islands form part of two of these elite playoff teams – Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs and Raja Bell of the Phoenix Suns. What are the odds that one, let alone two, world class athletes would emerge from a small Caribbean island of 50,000 people? Duncan is considered by the experts as one of the top players ever to play at the professional level. His level of play is almost effortless, and his near-perfection of the fundamentals of the game is un-paralleled. For his part, Bell has emerged as one of the premier defenders in the league, and a prolific long distance shooter outside the three-point line (At this writing, he already has 21 points at halftime!).

Both young men are articulate and intense, and represent the people of the Virgin Islands and the wider Caribbean with great distinction. They make all Crucians especially proud! It is too bad that their two teams are meeting in the first round of the playoffs where one will be eliminated.

As the 2008 in Beijing rapidly approach, would it not have been a delight to see both of these athletes joining other Virgin Islands athletes on the US Virgin Islands National Team this summer? “Sports autonomy” provides for non self-governing territories to field their own Olympic teams without regard for the political dependency status of these territories. As a result, the US Virgin Islands basketball team has always been quite competitive on the international level, in such competitions as the Central American and Caribbean Games, and the Pan American Games, among others. The team draws its players from the many Virgin Islands student-athletes competing at the collegiate level in a number of US universities. Some have later competed professionally in Europe and elsewhere. Olympic residency rules, however, appear to restrict the participation of Duncan on the territory’s team, and he plays for the US team instead. Bell has participated on Virgin Islands international teams over the years. So, we may never witness the real Virgin Islands basketball team in Olympic competition. Too bad.

It is interesting, though, that the NBA properly recognizes the international nature of the US Virgin Islands in correctly classifying these two Crucians as forming part of the international contingent of professional basketball players of the NBA. Accordingly, the US Virgin Islands flag is flown with the other flags representing the league’s “international players.” This is but another example of the international dimension of the US Virgin Islands as a non self-governing territory under international law where the ultimate political status of the territory remains unresolved. It has taken basketball to bring this objective reality to the forefront once again.