Will the US Men’s Basketball Team in the 2016 Rio Olympics remain unbeaten and go on to win the Gold? It used to be that this is no question but several instances have cast a doubt on the US Men’s Basketball Team’s unparalled supremacy in world basketball.
USA’s Bronze in Athens, 2004
During the 2004 Athens Olympics, American basketball was sent crushing back to earth with a bronze medal. They were stunned by Puerto Rico, Lithuania and Argentina while the whole world was watching.
But the genesis of that debacle happened as early as the 2000 Sydney Olympics when the U.S. team barely escaped Lithuania, 85-83 in the semi-final game off a Sarunas Jasikevicius three-pointer at the buzzer. It sent a strong message to the whole basketball world that yes, the United States is beatable in the open era and they were.
USA’s 6th Place Finish in Fiba, 2002
Fast forward to 2002 when the United States hosted the World Basketball Championships (now FIBA World Cup) at Indianapolis, Indiana where they will end up in sixth place. (Yugoslavia won the title). The whole basketball world made a strong statement to the whole world that NBA talents can be beaten at a high level basketball tournament.
But that was just a crack on the brick that would crumble totally two years after at the Athens Olympics.
A year prior to the Athens Olympics, the United States would qualify by winning the tournament of the Americas in San Juan Puerto Rico. And with the team composed of Jason Kidd, Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter and Tim Duncan, the U.S. was poised to win a fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal or so they thought.
The lead up to the Olympics saw the withdrawal of a total of nine players from the San Juan roster due to security, medical, and personal concerns. It must be noted that the 2004 Olympiad was the first after the 9-11 terrorist attack that changed the landscape of our world.
Only three players remained from that Olympic qualifying roster, Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson and Richard Jefferson. The recipe for a disaster began when young stars Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and first over-all pick Emeka Okafor were added to the team owing to the lack of talent that would want to enlist to play for the stars and stripes. The team’s head coach was Larry Brown who was not fond of young players electing veterans over upstarts. (Remember the “great white hope” Darko Milicic).
That was one if not the greatest problem the team had even before they stepped into the basketball court aside from team chemistry and being familiar with playing international basketball.
US Basketball’s Road to Redemption
The debacle of 2004 lead USA basketball to reflect and revisit its program especially with the selection of the coaching staff and players. It started with the hiring of Jerry Colangelo a Managing Director and Mike Krzyzewski as Head Coach. The choice of Krzyzewski would brought back U.S. basketball to play basic, to play the amateur style.
The road to redemption was not easy. Greece would beat Lebron James and company in their semi-final game during then 2006 FIBA Worlds 101-95 which again exposed the Americans’ unfamiliarity to the international game and the inability to play as a team relying much on individual talent.
USA’s Gold in Beijing, 2008
They would be able to redeem themselves in the 2008 Beijing Olympics with a roster headlined by a Kobe Bryant who was in his peak form, the reigning best point guard in the NBA Jason Kidd and a more mature Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwayne Wade with a support coming from role players such as shooter Michael Redd, Tayshaun Prince and Carlos Boozer. The closest the opponent got against them was eleven points during the gold medal game victory against Pau Gasol and the Spanish Team 118-107. The final score don’t speak for the game as it was a see-saw battle all through out until the Americans broke away late in the game.
USA’s Gold in London, 2012
They will repeat with winning the gold medal in the 2012 Olympics at London with most of the 2008 crew that did the damage such as Bryant, James, Wade, Anthony, Howard, and Paul committing for the Stars and Strips and supported by a new breed of rising stars such as Kevin Durant, Russel Westbrook and James Harden. They will have their video game moments trashing opponents left and right highlighted by a record setting drubbing of Nigeria 156-73 with Carmelo Anthony shooting the lights out with his 37 points in only 14 minutes of play. But that cloak of invincibility will be challenged again by Lithuania who just by six points and Spain losing only by seven points in the gold medal game.
Will it be Gold in Rio this 2016?
In the current Rio Olympics, the American brand of playing basketball has been exposed totally and the cloak of invincibility lost. The sons of Uncle Sam cruised past China 119-62, and Venezuela 113-69 before slipping past Australia 98-88, Serbia 94-91 and France 100-97.
The game against Australia provided the blue print on how to beat the Americans by playing team basketball, good movement without the ball, easy baskets provided by good screens and cuts and playing superb zone defense which the NBA stars are not familiar with coupled by physical play. If it wasn’t for individual brilliance, the Americans would have lost those three games.
What lies ahead for the Americans in the knock out rounds? If they will still continue to play lousy team defense relying so much on single coverage and lacking in communication coupled with player tantrums evident in the attitude of DeMarcus Cousins though out this Olympic campaign, the Americans may stumble and may not reach the gold medal. So far, the greatest threat to their gold medal hopes is still the Boomers of Australia and if they will end up meeting again in the knock out rounds, Australia will get the better of them.
The shadow of the 1992 USA Dream Team has totally left the current USA team playing in the Olympics. Yes the rest of the world has caught up with them by not playing like them. The next USA teams will be interesting to watch as San Antonio Spurs Gregg Popovich will now be at the helm and knowing his style of playing the international style of basketball in the NBA it will be worth watching but as for now, the Americans, relying only on their individual talent are on their toes. Will they make it three in a row for the Gold?
Let’s see but for now, let’s enjoy the games.