USA Olympic Basketball: Doomed?

Sixteen years ago, I was a part of history.

I was too young to remember the 1988 Olympics, which was the year the USA basketball team earned a bronze medal, the first non-gold since 1972.

I do, however, vividly remember the Barcelona Olympics. I watched every press conference, every available practice, and every game. I relished every moment of it. At just 12-years-old, I had a firm grip on what I was witnessing — history.

To this day, I believe "The Dream Team" was the best group of athletes ever assembled. Throw out Christian Laettner, the only collegiate athlete, and every member of the first professional Olympic team will enter the Hall of Fame. There was no weak link. There was no area of concern.

And when the team took to the court, it showed.

The Americans beat the competition by an average margin of 43.8 points. USA never used a timeout. It was the most amazing display of basketball I had every seen. The "Dream Team" worked cohesively from the first tip to the "Nike players" draping flags over the Reebok logo.

Since then, the skill level of the National Basketball Association declined and the world got better. But USA refused to change. Too stubborn to realize highlights were ruining the game. When Vince Carter jumped over 7'2" Frederic Weis, it was a sign of our demise.

We barely got through 2000 with the gold and it has been uphill ever since.

Now we have a team self-dubbed "The Redeem Team."

But what is so different about this team than 2004 or 2006? Kobe Bryant?

How many players can shoot the mid-range jumper? How many can consistently drain the three-point shot?

What will prevent the competition from packing it in the zone and forcing the USA to bomb away from the outside, nullifying America's biggest asset — the drive?

For as much that has been publicized regarding the selection process and the commitment by these American members, they fail to realize what enabled the first professional Olympic participants: eliminating weaknesses.

The USA Selection Committee was supposed to do that. They were supposed to stay away from selecting an all-star team, but rather assemble a team. They failed.

The "Redeem Team" consists of three point guards (Jason Kidd, Chris Paul, Deron Williams), three shooting guards (Dwyane Wade, Bryant, Michael Redd), three small forwards (LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Tayshaun Prince) and three post players (Carlos Boozer, Chris Bosh, Dwight Howard).

It seems for a team that was not supposed to look like an all-star team it sure does smell like an all-star team.

After 2006, the shortcomings were significant. The USA shot 37 percent from beyond the arc and 58 percent from inside. Everyone was quick to blame it on the Americans' lack of familiarity with each other, and the opposition's chemistry. The problem is not so much the chemistry as it is our style of play.

In USA's 2006 loss to Greece, Theodoros Papaloukas said, "I think this is the NBA, one against five," Papaloukas said. "It's different rules in the worlds. It's hard for one team, if they have so many big players, in one month to adapt to their new roles. All these players are big stars, but you have to do small different things. I think that was the difference: In our team, everybody knew what they had to do exactly."

That was the difference with the "Dream Team," as well. Every member of that team knew how to play basketball the right way. Watch the highlights, everyone made the extra pass and played exceptional team ball. The players of yesteryear were better basketball players.

This team has one pure shooter, Michael Redd and one true center, Dwight Howard (if healthy). How is this a team? Who, besides Redd, will nail the dagger? According to reports, Bryant will be the Americans' lockdown defender, but when the team is in a rut, what will stop him from doing what he did in the NBA Finals and completely taking everyone else out of the game by trying to take the game over, regardless of the consequences? Who is the dirt guy? The player who will do all the dirty stuff, dive for balls, tangle it up, stick his nose in everything. I don't necessarily agree this is the best way to field an Olympic team, but if you're going to select a "team" and not an all-star team, shouldn't these things be on the agenda? Instead, we have a quasi-all-star team. Kobe Bryant and Tayshaun Prince, Chris Paul and Jason Kidd.

If this team wants to be successful, they have to abandon everything that works in the NBA and find the fundamentals they learned when they first picked up a basketball. Throw out the slash and jam, find the open man. Throw out the one-on-five, take advantage of the three-on-one. If you're given an open jumper, don't pass it up for a dunk attempt and a possible charge, shoot the J.

I doubt they will be able to change their game and it's for this reason we should set ourselves up for disappointment.

I love basketball, I love America, but it troubles me that we can't put together a team able to win on the international level. I don't care if the Greeks have been playing together for five years and are the Greek all-stars, this is America, this is our game. How is it possible with all of the barn door basketball hoops, concrete jungle blacktops, and gym cathedrals we not have the players to walk away with a title? Yes, the international game is better, but this is still America's game. America still provides the newest inventive forms of offense and defense, so why does it all crumble in world play?

This team can do it, I just don't think they will. And until we can find a way to put together a team, or change the way America learns the game, we will continue to be the squad coming up just short and the country that may start looking at that 1992 team as if it truly was a dream.

Comments and Conversation

July 29, 2008


Who is the dirt guy? Tayshaun Prince. I like this team and think they’ll win the gold. For all your criticism, my question is who would you have selected differently? The 1992 Dream Team was a cast of all-stars, as well, so it’s no different than this.

July 29, 2008


The other teams have no answer for speed and depth. Plus now we have a little more knowledge of international rules and they are officiated…you’ve laid out a great argument for 2004 —you’re only four years too late.

July 30, 2008


I don’t mean to be rude but did you watch the finals? If Kobe tried to take over the Lakers may have actually won more games.

July 30, 2008


You’re dreadfully underselling this squad, Wailele. They have all of the elements you suggest they lack. You’re clearly also victim to the superiority complex most Americans have about the game of basketball. You write as if it’s America’s right to possess a game that was not only invented by a Canadian, but is played in those same barnyards, workshops, street courts and gyms throughout the rest of the planet. The only thing separating basketball in the USA generally and that of the rest of the world is a few decades head-start. It’s not exclusively the USA’s game and it arguably never was.

August 4, 2008


Do you follow today’s game at all? That decline period you’re referencing is over in my opinion. This year’s playoffs were exciting to watch and the only fundament I can agree with you on is the competence increase overseas. These players on this olympic squad were chosen for their skills no doubt; but the character of each guy stands out too. Not one of them (o.k. excluding Kobe) disvalues the importance of team cohesion. on top of that most of them can play two to three spots on the floor SEAMLESSLY maybe that’s not “traditional” hoops but thats where the evolution of the game is headed in my opinion, All of them CAN play intense D, not lockdown D but definitely intimidating D and honestly keeping the defensive morale up is the coaches’ job as well. I think you’re selling the entire team’s midrange creativity short too. Maybe you should actually see a few preliminary games before you decide to write a cynical article like this; it just seems to me like you’re going off of trading card stats or fantasy basketball rankings to back your presumptions.

August 17, 2008

Guy Cole:

Today is aug 17 and this USA team you belittle has gone undefeated, winning by an average of 21ppg and Greece is in the number of teams who has bitten the dust. Honestly it feels so good to tell you in hindsight that you were 95% wrong in your writing. The 5% is that the rest of the world has gotten better. In watching these games so far, Kobe Bryant has been one of the most unselfish players on this team as all of them are unselfish. The truth is that you sound like a jealous non-American. We’re accustomed to that though.

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