VICTORIOUS but not so GLORIOUS
USA Basketball has done it again! The 2016 squad has captured the Gold medal at the Olympic Games in Rio in convincing fashion. In the Gold medal game at least…
The 2016 Olympic tournament was a rollercoaster ride for USABMNT. After storming out the gates with two landslide victories against China and Venezuela, a whopping 119-62 and a casual 113-69, respectively, their next three group stage games were kind of a mess at times. Despite winning the remaining games, the performances were not convincing at all. They survived a closely contested game against the up and coming Australians with a 98-88 victory in their third game of Rio ’16. However, the players did not seem to take this as a warning. Instead, they barely won against France and Serbia, beating both teams by only three points each.
Entering the knockout stage, everybody, including myself, questioned the quality and the attitude of the US roster. Would 2004 repeat itself? Would they fail again? Of course we now know that they didn’t. They succeeded! And apart from their narrow victory against Pau Gasol led Bronze medal winners Spain, Team USA’s performances in the elimination games were convincing, as measured by mere results that is. The US squad ended Manu Ginobili’s international career with a lopsided 105-78 win in the quarterfinals, and after their defeat of Spain in the semis, they manhandled Serbia 96-66 in the title game to bring home the Gold.
Nevertheless, the US did disappoint when it comes to their style of play. Instead of using their superior athleticism and basketball talent to put on a show, Team USA was stagnant and displayed a lack of movement on both offense and defense. While most international teams thrive in 5-on-5 situations due to their stunning ball movement, the American players prefer to dribble down the clock and put themselves into 1-0n-1 duels with their opponents, solely relying on their talent. They could have avoided many of these situations by sacrificing themselves on defense and thereby create fast break opportunities, perfectly suited for their quick and athletic players, but again they didn’t. Most of the time. When they did though, watching these incredible athletes do their thing was spectacular.
Led by their top scorer Kevin Durant and USABMNT’s record player Carmelo Anthony, the US simply had too much talent on their roster for the other countries to overcome. However, the team was not as stacked with top-caliber players as in previous Olympics. Many superstars, including LeBron James and Stephen Curry, skipped the Rio games. And it showed… There were major differences between the first and second unit. While the starting five was packed with scorers like Kyrie, KD and Melo, the second unit lacked a little scoring punch. They did better on defense though.
As I already mentioned in my previous article, Gold alone simply was not enough for this US squad. They did not fully disappoint. But they did disappoint to some extent. If it wasn’t for their convincing effort in the Final against Serbia, you could have labeled the 2016 Team USA a failure, regardless of them winning it all. Their margin of victory though was more than enough to silence many of their critics. They beat Serbia by 30 points, barely missing the mark the Dream Team set when they won by 32 in the 1992 final against Croatia.
But how does this team stack up against the other USA Basketball Men’s National Teams since the famous Dream Team in 1992? Let’s take a look and rank the Olympic teams the US has sent to the Summer games since 1992. We already know who number 1 is, obviously…
7. Athens 2004: The Nightmare “Team”
2004 was nothing less than a disaster for USA Basketball. Just like all the other US teams in this ranking, the 2004 squad did manage to play eight games. The Gold medal game was not one of these games. Team USA did not only lose the semifinal, they lost a total of three out of their eight games. The Bronze medal wasn’t even a consolation prize, it was a badge of shame. Led by superstars Allen Iverson and Tim Duncan, USA Basketball hit rock bottom in Athens. There was almost no team chemistry, a lack of attitude and too many egocentric players on the roster. The result was a lackluster performance for the ages and an embarrassing 3rd place at the 2004 Olympic basketball tournament.
6. Sydney 2000: The Downfall Begins
While 2004 was the worst case scenario, the US team at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney already showed alarming signs for upcoming years. Although the team was a good mixture between young players and veterans, Vince Carter, Kevin Garnett and Gary Payton for example, and stacked with shooters, they did not dominate the way basketball fans were used to. Plus the players showed a kind of arrogance that did not go too well with many spectators. It seemed as if they didn’t take their opponents seriously. This almost cost the team a trip to the final, but they barely escaped Lithuania and went on to win Gold against France; a game which is best remembered for Vince Carter’s absurd dunk over French 7-footer Frederic Weis.
5. Rio 2016: Victorious but not so Glorious
This year’s team comes in at number 5. The main reasons are the disappointing results in the group stage games and the not so stacked roster. They probably wouldn’t have won Gold without KD and Melo. The team simply gave basketball afficionados not much to dream about. Apart from some extraordinary 1-on-1 plays, the team was not as spectacular as the fans would have hoped. Gold has to be enough this time.
4. Beijing 2008: The Redeem Team
In the aftermath of 2004, USA Basketball decided to restructure their system and get more continuity into their men’s basketball program. And it paid off! Coach K took over and with the help of superstars Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, Team USA returned to the top of the basketball world with a bang. Watching the Redeem Team play was like watching the Monstars destroy the Looney Tunes in the first half of Space Jam! Man did they put on a show… They had to fight hard in the Gold medal game against Spain to recapture the throne though, winning 118-107. Gold and glory were back!
3. Atlanta 1996: Dream Team II
After the 1992 Dream Team had stunned the basketball world with their unbelievable performance, the expectations for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta were of course sky high. A roster packed with veteran superstars, including five members of the 1992 team, the US fulfilled all expectations with their mesmerizing style of play and their professional approach. Imagine a team with Shaq, Hakeem the Dream and The Admiral at the five spot… That’s simply unfair! Just look at the team photo, basketball royalty! Of course they won Gold…
2. London 2012: LeBron’s Team
Just like the 2008 squad, the 2012 team was extremely spectacular. Led by King James who played all positions in every game, this team conquered London by storm. The roster was slightly upgraded with then OKC trio KD, Westbrook and Harden and they just ran every opponent out of the gym. USA veterans LeBron, Kobe and Melo held the team together and just like in Beijing, they beat Spain in the Gold medal game, this time 107-100. The King and his crew continued their reign atop the basketball world!
1. Barcelona 1992: The Dream Team
The name says it all. This team was a dream in the form of legendary basketball players. Michael Jordan. Magic Johnson. Larry Bird. Charles Barkley. John Stockton. Patrick Ewing. Karl Malone. Scottie Pippen. Chris Mullin. David Robinson. Clyde Drexler. And Christian Laettner… They were a global attraction. They put on a show no one had ever seen before. They eased through competition as if they were superhuman. They revolutionized the game of basketball and kickstarted the rise of international players who would ultimately land in the NBA. This team will NEVER be surpassed. Period.
I’m already curious to see what 35 year old LeBron and head coach Gregg Popovich will do in Tokyo 2020…