While I was in NYC for the Nike World Basketball Festival, I heard an intriguing fact about USA's Men's Basketball Team that I never knew before.
The USA Men's Basketball team have not won the FIBA World Championships since 1994.
Do you know how long ago that was? I mean, I was 11 years old and in the 6th grade. I was still wearing X-Men t-shirts and was hell bent on perfecting my skills on Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat. In 1994, the dream affectionately known as "Dream Team II" was led by Shaquille O'Neal, Larry Johnson, and my two favorite players growing up, Shawn Kemp and Reggie Miller. The team consisted of no players from the original Dream Team regime, yet they were able to dominate all international play and finish 8-0 to bring home the championship back to the states.
So what's happened since '94? We still have the best talent, we still have the best coaches, and we still have the best resources...so why can't the USA win?
Well, we all know what happened after '94. Dream Team III emerged in 1996 and handedly won Gold in the Olympics in Atlanta. Who in the hell was going to beat a frontline composed of Shaq, Admiral, and Dream? This 1996 team kept the bar as high as the 1992 team did. Obliterate the competition and have fun while doing it. This was all fun and games, until the lockout happened...
In 1998, The FIBA World Championships were held in Athens, Greece. This men's national team was much different from the previous teams, as none of its players were current members of NBA teams. Because of a labor dispute that led to a lockout, no active NBA players were permitted to compete in the tournament. This is a team who's best player ended up being undrafted free agent Brad Miller. Some of the other team members were Trajan Langdon, Kiwane Garris and Michael Hawkins. Surprisingly, this team captured a bronze medal, which is amazing since they had no players from the league on the squad.
On to 2000...Sydney, Australia. USA wins the Gold. However, there's only really one thing to talk about when we think of USA Basketball and the 2000 Olympics. Its the greatest dunk of all-time (yeah I said it) and arguably the greatest teammate celebration of all-time, (Kenny will appreciate this) so let's just enjoy this real quick.
So after Vince YUUUUUUUUULE'D on ole buddy from France and Kevin Garnett had the greatest teammate get-hype celebration ever, we have to move on to 2002...also known as "When all hell broke loose for USA Basketball."
The FIBA World Championships were held in Indianapolis, and the team was coached by none other than George Karl. Fail #1. Ray Allen and Jason Kidd agreed to play then got injured prior to. Fail #2. Then George Karl feuded with arguably his biggest star Paul Pierce, and benched him. Fail #3. Team USA came in 6th place! The United States lost 3 games in the tournament to countries with current or future NBA stars, like Argentina (led by Manu Ginóbili), Serbia (led by Peja Stojaković and Vlade Divac) and Spain (led by Pau Gasol).
At this point we're seeing the trend of the international players rising up the totem pole, but we're also seeing inferior coaches and leadership lacking on the squad. Let's see if this trend continues.
2004 Olympics...the Annexation of Puerto Rico (Boricuas stand up!) and loses to Argentina (Ginobli again) equals another 3rd-place finish for Team USA.
In 2006, the Godfather Jerry Colangelo took over the team and started asking for a 3-year commitment from players. Who did he target? LeBron, Wade, and Carmelo. Got Coach K as his coach and tied their hopes to the three young stallions. Yes, they lost to Greece in the semifinals, but the groundwork had been laid. Ok wait, no...they should not be losing to Greece under any circumstance ever. There's not one pro player to ever come out of Greece (no diss) and yet they still lost. Can anyone really explain this?
In 2008 LeBron, Wade, and 'Melo formed the newly dubbed 'Redeem Team' and finally won Gold after a hard fought win against Spain. This team also had one of the greatest renditions of the national anthem of all-time with Marvin Gaye for a Nike commercial.
So now let's review. Lost in 1998...understandable because we had no NBA players and the best dude on the squad was the "Alaskan Assassin" Trajan Langdon. They lost in 2002 with a shoddy coach, B-Level players, and the rise of international stars. 2006, we had the stars and we had the coach but USA lost to a team who never put a player in the league. Again, that's no diss but shouldn't we mop the floor with them?
This leads me to a larger concern with USA's basketball team and the players. Yes, they play in the greatest league (NBA) in the world, and yes we have the most "talented" players. However, we see this a lot in college basketball too, where teams with lesser talent can beat the Goliaths of college basketball because they have a better scheme and a coach who actually makes the other team work. Is this same principle in practice for the international game as well? I think Team USA's style of play in its individual players has become predictable and mundane, and we saw this last night as USA struggled to beat a Spain team without big boy Pau Gasol. Marc Gasol was in there doing work against us. Ricky Rubio balled out as well. We could've easily lost that game, and save from Derrick Rose fullbacking in the lane to get to the line and Kevin Durant playing superb defense, we would've lost.
The 2010 FIBA World Championships start up on Saturday and I'm not all that confident that our B-Squad can get a win. Hell, Lamar Odom is considered the elder statesman and is being asked to be a veteran presence. Word? Tyson Chandler is the best big man on the team. Word? They've got 3 point guards that I wouldn't trust to make a jumper if my life depended on it. (Rose, Rondo, Westbrook) Word? Rudy Gay is the power forward. Word? I watched this team up close in NYC, scrimmaging against each other and playing against a France squad that was led by Boris Diaw. You know what Boris Diaw looks like? He looks pregnant. Dude hasn't been in shape in 4 years. You know what else? Dude BALLED on Team USA. Hitting 3's, getting rebounds, and was giving work to the USA bigs. This should definitely make you nervous.
With all that being said, I still think they should win, but its no guarantee at all. Coach K's going to have to do more than just motivate, he's going to have to get creative like he would coaching against North Carolina and the rest of the ACC. Otherwise, this losing streak will continue.
P.S. As a reminder, checkout the livest sports talk (and hopefully on the radio soon) show around, "The Unsportsmanlike Conduct Show" as we are live Wednesday's at 9pm Eastern at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/edthesportsfan! Download our podcasts if you missed the live show as well!