It’s the Olympics and that means time for another drubbing of the rest of the world in basketball with our Dream Team 2012 following Dream teams going back all the way to 1992. Nigeria is just the most recent victim.
Except people may have forgotten that the 2004 ‘Dream Team’ didn’t win the gold.
In 16 Olympic appearances the USA has won 13 gold, 1 silver (the controversial 1972 final against the USSR) and 2 bronze medals (1988 and 2004).
The three losses all have something in common. Whether or not this year’s Olympic team has fallen into the same trap is a matter of debate right now but the risk is there.
The 1972 team were not the best players in the USA. They weren’t even the best college players overall in 1972. 1st team All-Americans Bill Walton, Bob McAdoo and current Grizzlies assistant coach Henry Bibby failed to play on the national team. Only Ed Ratleff played on the Olympic team and also was named a first team All-American that year. That year’s team still beat the USSR twice only to be over-ruled by officials (both on and off the court) before falling on a full court last second pass.
The 1988 team was the last time the USA sent a purely amateur team to the Olympics. While there wasn’t a large boycott of players as there had been in 1972, the talent level of this team was not an accumulation of the best players from America. These were the days of semi-pro Olympics and the best in the USA was not in college. While some pro athletes were allowed in the Olympics, basketball was still amateur, at least in name. No one was suggesting that the Soviet team was anything except professional. The players were given titles in the military but never would be considered a modern soldier.
That wasn’t the reason the USA failed to win gold however. The USA simply wasn’t a dominant team that season. David Robinson, Danny Manning and Dan Majerle led the team but against such powerful teams as Russia and Yugoslavia (with future NBA players Draven Petrovic, Tony Kukoc, Vlade Divac and Dina Radja) were simply too young and inexperienced. The rest of the world had caught up with the USA’s college programs and were producing players equal to the best the amateur programs in the USA could produce.
What happened in 2004 came as great a shock to the US system as the 1972 loss did. This wasn’t a situation were the best college players weren’t playing. This wasn’t a situation were professionals weren’t allowed to play at all. The USA sent a team of NBA players to the Olympics and lost 3 games to the rest of the world. That was greater than the USA Olympic team had lost in their Olympic history prior to 2004.
The team had Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson plus young stars like LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Carmelo Anthony but it wasn’t composed of the best the NBA had to offer. Shaquille O’Neal was in his prime. Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and others also turned down the invitation to play. The team lost by 19 points to Puerto Rico in their opening game, lost to Lithuania in the preliminary round and were ousted by Argentina in the semi-finals.
Since that embarrassment the USA team was rebuilt with Mike Krzyzewski and Jerry Colangelo leading the team. For two Olympics there was little doubt the US team consisted of the best the country had to offer. However, this year’s team, despite some silly accusations that they are better than the original Dream Team, is far from the best the US has to offer. Missing are Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh, Blake Griffin and other players who could provide the USA with an interior force lacking on this team.
Will it make a difference? Probably not but there is a risk. The USA barely defeated Lithuania. It could have just been a letdown after crushing the poor Nigerian team. However, with tough NBA loaded teams such as Spain, Russia and Argentina still to play this year’s team may not be good enough to win it all.