During the 2004 Athens Olympics, the US men's basketball team was booed mercilessly by Greek fans. Team USA – with NBA stars like Iverson, Wade, James, Duncan and Stoudamire – suffered three tournament defeats (Puerto Rico, Lithuania and Argentina) and became the star of the basketball world. Americans were arrogant, bored, and ridiculed.
In 2005, in response to this failure, USA Basketball was founded, an organization whose sole purpose is to make clear that in major world tournaments American basketball (women's and men's) should not be tampered with and that the country that birthed the sport (Springfield, Massachusetts, 1891) It was also the number one basketball country in the world.
USA Basketball, led by the devout Italian-American sports businessman Jerry Colangelo, was an instant success. The so-called “Redemption Team” had an impressive performance in Beijing 2008: led by Kobe Bryant, the team won all games by an average margin of 27 points. The London 2012 Games witnessed a repeat of this dominance, as happened in Rio 2016.
Second division championship
So things were going well for both men and women with the Americans dominating the Olympic podium, but there was still a small flaw in the Americans' way of thinking. They have considered the FIBA World Basketball Association tournaments in all the intervening years to be second-tier events. In 2006, they (again with James, Anthony, Paul and Wade) stumbled over Greece and especially their characters. The United States had to settle for the bronze medal, Spain became world champions, and the basketball world laughed.
Businessman Colangelo provided a richly furnished base for the best sports; Money was no object, training camps were plentiful, transportation was first class, the best personnel were hired and selected players were allowed to continue the success story.
Last week, things went wrong again for Team USA. To the great surprise of the basketball world, the Americans finished seventh in the World Cup tournament in China after two humiliating defeats to France and Serbia and a narrow escape against Turkey.
What is the explanation for the weak play?
There were twelve legitimate players in the NBA, earning a combined annual salary of more than $100 million, playing mediocre basketball, and sometimes not seeming to care. Even great coach Gregg Popovich (San Antonio Spurs) couldn't change that. When his calf sank, Popovic was realistic: “We didn't play well enough, and France and Serbia were better in our encounters.”
This admission of guilt seemed quite obvious, but was there an explanation for it?
Without anyone in the large army representing Team USA in China (four bench coaches, six tournament scouts, doctors, physical therapists, secretaries, travel managers, cooks, and equipment workers) daring to say: the players were not… Americans are definitely the best. I prefer the elite of the NBA, because almost all of the big stars arrogantly turned their noses up at this World Cup before long. James, Curry, Thompson, Davis, Paul, George, Leonard, Westbrook and others were very good at it.
In short: the concept of a “world championship” does not fit their way of thinking. For Americans, the NBA was the top stage, closely followed by Mount Olympus, but the FIBA Championship didn't attract all those (tired) stars. So much travel, so far from home, so little honor to be gained, and who still plays for honor these days?
Same story as Athens 2004
They have canceled the Games in droves and have yet to respond publicly, with critical journalists in the US excoriating Team USA's performance: arrogant and self-indulgent – the same story as Athens 2004.
The team Popovich was allowed to lead had a legitimate star in Kemba Walker and an upcoming star in Donovan Mitchell. Although Popovich rightly points out that under no circumstances should you mention players who weren't there, it's still a good idea to look at this list. Messrs. Beal, Drummond, Gordon, Harden, Lillard, McCollum, Love and Lowry (all big players) had already declined the honor before the first training camp: they preferred to spend the summer of 2019 a different way. Thus they were already the second initial choice.
Although it is not said that these guys would have played winning basketball, it seems that the team is much better than the team they were now. And again, just like back then, the rest of the basketball world was laughing on the sidelines: America finished seventh. Spain (along with four NBA players) became world champions.
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