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We are beginning to get a sense of how Canada’s basketball golden age will work – good for basketball; not so hot for Canada.

On paper, this country is now the second-most-powerful basketball country in the world. We have more than a dozen players in the NBA. Several of them – Jamal Murray, Andrew Wiggins, R.J. Barrett – are stars or proto-stars.

There’s enough depth to field two decent international squads. These guys should be moonwalking the flag into the 2020 Olympics.

The rather less exciting reality began coming into focus on Sunday. Canada played Australia in its first outing of the FIBA world championships, held in China. The top seven of 32 participating countries will book a ticket to Tokyo.

The 12-man Canadian squad features only two of those NBAers – Cory Joseph and Khem Birch. The rest are either injured, ‘injured’ or absent without excuse.

Facing an experienced Australian team, Canada did what pregolden-era Canadian teams tended to do – hang on desperately and be outclassed at the end. The game ended in a 108-92 defeat.

The Canadians play an even better Lithuanian team on Tuesday and that, in all likelihood, will be that. Canada’s Olympic dream will then hinge on qualifying as a lucky loser for a win-or-go-home mini-tournament to be held next year, just before the Games.

So, though it might not be over over for some time, it’s sort of over. Canada finally got a job interview for the position of world basketball superpower, and it slept in.

I suppose this is where we rend our garments and bemoan a lack of patriotism among the flower of our youth. Maybe we could strike a Royal Commission to investigate why a bunch of twentysomething bajillionaires who’ve spent their formative years in the United States don’t want to fly to China during the summer holidays to perform national service.

And that would get us where exactly? Just more annoyed.

Canada’s best players didn’t put their hands up because there is no glory in playing basketball for Canada. In fairness, the best players in the United States took a pass for the same reason. The difference is that America’s fourth-tier is better than just about everyone else’s first.

As with most things, the fault is systemic as well as individual. North Americans don’t put the national jersey above the professional one. And we’re not just speaking about the pro athletes. We all think that way.

Our main sports loyalties are civic and/or regional. The rest of the world puts country first.

It would be unthinkable for a top South American or African soccer player to refuse a call to the national team. It would make you a pariah. Regardless of how great you were, you’d have no legacy to speak of back home.

This is why you will occasionally see a player weeping during the anthems at a soccer World Cup. He may already be rich and feted, but he has finally achieved something that puts him in the first rank of his countrymen. He’s arrived.

Taking a cue from his Canadian and American colleagues, Australia’s Ben Simmons skipped the FIBA tournament as well. In a great have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too moment, Simmons released a statement saying he would spend his September preparing for the NBA season instead, but would be “honoured and humbled” to play in the Olympics.

That didn’t go over so well in Australia.

Canada couldn’t summon any outrage when the Wigginses of the world wouldn’t take our calls. It hardly made news. Wiggins didn’t bother trying to commit to a theoretical Olympic team in a year. He knew that saying anything would only make him a target.

Were these hockey players, the situation would be different. But Canada has a storied past in that sport rooted in the crucible of the Cold War. You can’t compare hockey with anything else. It has its own rules in this regard.

The question is whether this ambivalence about non-hockey players wrapping themselves in the Maple Leaf is a bad thing. I’d suggest it is neither good nor bad. It just is.

Canada doesn’t have any true enemies. Aside from fraternal sparring with our neighbours to the south, we don’t feel any pressing need to beat anybody at anything (again, with a hockey exception). We don’t put our self-worth in trophies.

We’ll all get deep into an Olympics for two weeks every two years, but that’s the extent of it. Once you’ve spent a few days obsessed with the minutiae of the 100-metre sprint or freestyle skiing, you forget them entirely until the torch is lit again. Compared with just about everyone else on Earth, we are national sports dilettantes.

When a Canadian amateur wins a medal at a world championship, it isn’t cause for sea-to-sea-to-sea celebration. When a team wins the Stanley Cup, Canada does not jump up to insist that we count all the Canadians on it.

Canada’s cool with just being Canada. We try not to make too big a deal. Of anything. It’s part of the reason we have so few wars.

Expecting that to change because we now have a few guys who can play basketball is pointless. We don’t care and they don’t care and life goes on.

So while it would be fun if our NBAers were desperate to represent the flag, it would not be in keeping with our collective character.

As such, it’s hard to feel robbed of anything. All of us set the rules. Our basketball stars are only following them. In time, they will probably regret it more than any of us.

What we should do is celebrate the few players fighting a losing battle in China right now. The country will not thank them. They won’t get a parade. There won’t be any editorials about how they represent the best of us.

But they do. Because they embody the most Canadian virtue of all – showing up to help out when you’re asked.

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