Everyone can remember when mighty Team USA – stacked to the gills with NBA talent – were shocked in the 2004 Olympic basketball semi-finals by Argentina.
In hindsight, maybe it shouldn’t have been such a surprise. Argentina was truly a talented team, who touted NBA talent of their own in Luis Scola, Fabricio Oberto, Andres Nocioni, and of course Manu Ginobili (arguably the best player in the entire tournament).
The popular narrative wove at the time was that the United States was so dominant at basketball, that any twelve NBA players could be grouped together to win gold at the tournament. After their colossal failure, it was argued that Team USA didn’t have the shooting, nor the top-tier NBA talent necessary to win at the global level.
People always point to this experience as the turning point in which Team USA learned from this lesson, and came back better than ever in the 2008 Olympics, with the Redeem Team. But, they actually got their asses handed to them once more in the 2006 FIBA World Cup semi-finals, this time by Greece:
So, what the hell happened here?
Reading the YouTube comments, Team USA should have apparently been wary of “legendary” players Vassilis Spanoulis and Dimitrios Diamantidis.
Who are these men?
I haven’t the faintest clue. All I know is shortly after the tournament, Spanoulis honored thirty-one games of his three year contract with the Houston Rockets in which he averaged 2.7 PPG on 31% FG (17% behind the arc) in a paltry 8.8 minutes per.
Well, how in the hell did they defeat Team USA?
I suppose they played better basketball?
Against LeBron James, newly awarded Finals MVP Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony?
Well, how else did they win?
The team the United States decided to field in 2006 consisted of talented, young players. The problem was that they were too young. The players listed above weren’t even 23 years of age yet. This was in stark contrast to the legends from Greece, who were aged 24 and 29, respectively.
This is especially troubling, since the entire point of introducing professionals to Team USA was so that other country’s men basketball teams would stop beating up on our boys. Of course, we always remember the 1992 Dream Team because of it’s unique collection of talent, but I also find it no coincidence that their best players were Michael Jordan (29), Magic Johnson (32), and Charles Barkley (29). In fact, the youngest players not named Christian Laettner were Scottie Pippen and David Robinson, both 26 years of age.
Before this, Team USA consisted of college players. Some years, the entire world would run into a buzzsaw (as was the case in 1984). But, as 1988 proved, it could also end in heartbreak for the United States.
Led by center Arvydas Sabonis (7’4″, 269 lbs), guard Sarunas Marciulionis, and with a median age of 26 years (compared to Team USA’s 22 years), the Soviet national team were grown ass men, and they won the gold because of it. The United States firing back with the Dream Team four years later was in direct response to these results.
Thanks for the history lesson, Commish, but what’s your point?
The FIBA World Cup is only a few weeks away. And, while everyone here is arrogantly expecting the United States to win gold, it should be noted that the best players from Team USA’s current FIBA entry are (arguably) Kemba Walker (29), Donovan Mitchell (22), and Jayson Tatum (21). They also currently possess a median age of just 24 years.
Meanwhile, Greece will have a vastly superior version of the Ball Brothers in their arsenal, with reigning NBA MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and his brothers, Kostas (6’10”) and Thanasis (6’7″).
The always talented team from Argentina will be a threat, as will Marc Gasol (34) and Ricky Rubio’s (28) Spanish team. Experience and body development will also be on their side, with the median ages for both teams reaching 26 and 30 years (!!!), respectively.
So, Team USA is going to get their asses kicked. Is that what you’re saying?
No. I fully expect Team USA to dominate their group, trouncing teams by 20 and 30 points, awing us with their superior athletic ability en-route to a pristine 5-0 record. It’s when they enter tournament play that their inexperience will become a concern for me.
I barely even know what I’m talking about, and even I can see Greece, Argentina, and Spain being a threat. But, what other team could be waiting for their chance to seize World Cup gold, or simply upset the Americans?
Brazil has been catching up quickly, and has a median age of 30 years.
France will have NBA players Frank Ntilikina, Nic Batum (30), Evan Fournier (26) and Defensive Player of the Year himself in Rudy Gobert (27) at their disposal.
Shit, Serbia might just be my pick to win the tournament. How will Team USA deal with the size of Nikola Jokic (24 years old, 6’10”) and Boban Marjanovic (30 years old, 7’3″)? Not to mention fellow NBA players Bogdan Bogdanovic (26) and Milos Teodosic (32), who will serve as snipers from the corners.
So, don’t count me as shocked should Team USA be lucky enough to even win bronze at this point. This cocky “they don’t need me to win” attitude from some of the best players in the league is the same reason the United States were unsuccessful in their 2004 and 2006 efforts. The world has not officially caught up with the United States when it comes to basketball, but they have been closing the gap. And that’s precisely why Team USA needs their very best to capture the gold.
As currently constructed, Team USA appears to not care enough about the FIBA World Cup.
Which is fine. I’m sure a country that does care will be the one to win it.
Follow me on Twitter, for more of my ‘Murica slander, my takes from this year’s FIBA World Cup (which I will be watching intently), as well as my musings during the NBA season. Perhaps even most of my readers couldn’t give a rat’s ass about this year’s tournament, and that sounds about right. Much like the players from this country, nobody appears to pay any attention to these things until we are humiliated. And, if you’ve heard what the Serbian head coach had to say about Team USA, it sounds like something out of Rocky IV. If we don’t take them seriously enough, we might find ourselves in our stars and stripes trunks, face down on the mat, convulsing in a fight with our body to simply stay alive.