There are certain things that come with being a champion, especially if you've built a dynasty. Standards for you are a lot higher, a lot tougher than with everybody else.
Take the case of the Los Angeles Lakers. In a lockout-shortened 66-game season, the Lakers were 41-25. Any other team would have been happy with that record and the upper-middle playoff seed that went with it. Not the Lakers though. They were ousted in five games by the younger, hungrier and more athletic Oklahoma City Thunder in the second round.
Let's think about that for a minute... very good regular season record, good playoff seed, made it to the second round of the playoffs. And still a failure by Laker standards.
That is what happens when your team is the second winningest team in the history of the NBA, when you win NBA titles in bunches, and when Hollywood A-listers are actually decades-long and very knowledgeable fans. Anything less than an NBA championship just isn't the same.
In the NCAA it is much the same thing for a program like Duke. While much has been said about how the great Dean Smith's North Carolina teams really only won two NCAA titles, Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils have won far more, so much so that Duke fans think a mere trip to the Final 4 is inconsequential. Smaller schools like Virginia Commonwealth or George Mason might see the Final 4 as beyond their wildest expectations, but Duke fans need their Blue Devils to at least fight for the national championship.
John Calipari and his Kentucky Wildcats are now living in that same surreal universe of much-bloated expectations. Calipari has been very good at getting the one-done phenoms from American prep schools, the latest being uber athletic big man Anthony Davis. His latest recruit Nerlens Noel continues this new trend for him. And with all of this of course comes the expectation that Calipari's first NCAA title this year will be the first of many, possibly annual, championships he will bring home to bluegrass country.
Perhaps nowhere else in the basketball universe is the impossibly high expectation even more unattainable than with USA Basketball, the program and organization in charge of ensuring that the country that invented the game continues to be at the apex of the game. Krzyzewski will be experiencing all of this again in roughly 60-plus days when the 2012 Olympics rolls around in London, England.
In a country whose average citizen probably thinks the pick-and-roll is a pastry or a quirky cocktail, Krzyzewski will once again have the thankless and unenviable task of making sure the Americans keep their precious Olympic gold medal in men's basketball. After all, they have the best players in the world, NBA superstars, on their roster, who could possibly stop them?
Well, they were stopped already in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece and the 2002 World Championships in their own basketball-crazy backyard, Indiana. Did we mention that the Women's Program is actually far more successful in recent international play? Still, Krzyzewski, who coached the American back into international glory in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, is expected to continue stamping American class on international basketball.
He'll have less than a full deck with Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh and Derrick Rose, all shoe-ins for the London roster, all officially and indefinitely sidelined with various injuris sustained in NBA play. Those three represent easily two starters and the sixth man. Krzyzewski is so bereft of talented size he has had to bring in Davis from Kentucky, techncially an incoming college sophomore who is the consensus Number 1 choice in the next NBA draft.
Sure, he will still have reigning NBA MVP LeBron James and scoring champion Kevin Durant, as well as James' Miami Heat running mate Dwayne Wade, Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant and maybe even Andrew Bynum and Blake Griffin. That is a roster no other international team could match on a talent-for-talent scale. "America is the worst team tactically, but when James or Wade or Bryant drive or want to score, what can you do?" asked former Smart Gilas head coach Rajko Toroman at dinner one evening. It is a rhetorical question. Or is it?
That same thing could be said of the Lakers, Duke, Kentucky, maybe even Talk N Text, Ateneo and San Beda in the local scene. But everybody knows any team can beat any other team at any given time. Bilog nga naman ang bola. Holding up even a known and proven team to standards that are already unreasonably high can only result in added and unnecessary pressure. When it all adds up, failure becomes magnified out of all proportion as well.
This is when fans have to realize that expectations can weigh down a team. The least they can do is wisen up and relieve the burden by first unburdening themselves.