The U.S. Olympic Basketball Team And What It Means To The NBA.


This summer in London, we are going to be able to witness one of the grandest sporting events of all-time. Starting in late July, the best athletes in the world will meet to compete in the Olympic games.

You may have guessed this, but  my favorite event in any Olympics is watching my American basketball team. Even in 2004, when we won the Bronze Medal.

I’ve mentioned this before but I’ll mention it again here; the 1992 Dream Team was one of the biggest reasons that I’m as big a basketball fan as I am today. Not even just basketball, but sports in general. Before the Dream Team entered my life, I was a huge Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan. I mean, who wasn’t? But I couldn’t be bothered with any athletic competitions for any reason until Michael, Scottie and the rest won the Gold in Barcelona.

So yeah, you could say that team shaped the rest of my life, for better or worse.

It’s been 20 years since that team won the Gold and while the U.S. team has finished first every year except 2004, watching them hasn’t gotten boring. Not by a long shot.

In my opinion, the Olympic team does an awesome job of  showcasing the important players and illustrates how things have changed since the past summer games.

Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look:

1992- The first Olympic Team led by NBA players. The two best players on the team were the two best players on the two-time World Champion Chicago Bulls. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen took Barcelona by storm and rolled to the Gold Medal. While Jordan and Pippen were awesome, Chuck Barkley led the team in scoring. Not surprisingly, he won the 1993 NBA MVP and almost willed the Phoenix Suns to the franchise’s first World Championship.

1996- This team makes me sad looking back. They almost as dominant as the ’92 team and won the same Gold Medal, but it was a real changing of the guard from the 1992-era stars. The ’96 team returned a few of the guys from the ’92 squad (Pippen, Barkley, David Robinson, John Stockton and Karl Malone) but with no Jordan and young guns like Grant Hill, Anfernee Hardaway and Shaquille O’ Neal more popular, they became the face of the Olympic team. The sad part involved the injuries to Hill and Hardaway that stole away the league’s two best young players.

2000- This was probably the most forgettable Olympic team for one reason or another. The most memorable moment of the whole tournament was probably this. Don’t get me wrong, that was awesome and is still awesome today, but there were some random guys on that team. The reason it was forgettable was because the two best players in the league at the time, Shaq and Kobe Bryant, didn’t take part. In a league that was in the midst of the Lakers winning three straight titles, it would have been nice to have at least one of them on the squad. Still, the team rolled to the Gold Medal.

2004- This was the culmination of some time spent wandering through the wildness for American basketball. After winning the Gold Medal in 2000, the 2002 American team finished an astonishing 6th at the World Championships. The 2004 Olympic team didn’t fare much better and finished third. The 2004 team was an odd mix of young guys who weren’t quite ready for that level of competition. Allen Iverson, Shawn Marion and Richard Jefferson were the veteran leaders and LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony struggled to adjust to the international game. However, those guys were crucial because it became clear over the next few years that brighter days were on the horizon, as the early 2000s left and gave way to the talent boom we see today.

2008- The Redeem Team. The team that put America back on the map in a big way. It was also arguably the most talented U.S. Olympic team ever. Yes, even better than the 1992 team. This team was criminally loaded and was only seriously threatened one time, in the Gold Medal game against Spain. In that game with Spain closing fast, Kobe Bryant took the biggest shot of the tournament and completely a four-point play that pushed the Americans over the top.

The 2008 squad was important because of the international implications, but also answered a major question at the time. Everyone said that LeBron was the best player in the game and had rushed to crown him as the king of the league. That was a matter of opinion but when Bryant hit that shot, the Alpha-Dog question had been answered completely and totally. Kobe was the league’s reigning MVP at the 2008 games and was fresh off a Finals appearance, even if it was a loss. The 2008 Gold Medal propelled Kobe to back-to-back World Championships and LeBron drew some criticism after the playoffs the next few seasons, whether it be fairly or not.

So what does 2012 look like? We just saw LeBron break through that imaginary ceiling and win his first title. He already has a Gold Medal, but winning a Gold Medal as The Man would be huge. The list of NBA Olympian Alpha Dogs reads like a who’s who of great basketball players: Michael Jordan, Grant Hill/Shaq/Penny Hardaway, Vince Carter/Jason Kidd, Tim Duncan, Kobe, LeBron (?).

In a lot of ways, the 2012 Finals was the kids pulling away from the veteran-laden pack.

In 2011, Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks broke through and won their first World Championship. The Lakers led by Kobe won in 2009 and 2010. The original Big 3 from Boston won in 2008 and the Spurs won in 2007.

Dwyane Wade provided the famous 2003 draft class with their first taste of success in the NBA when he won the 2006 World Championship, but even he was joined by a member of the old guard in Shaquille O’ Neal on that team. That was hardly the breakthrough victory that you want from one of the signature draft classes of your entire league’s history.

The 2012 World Champions though? The Heat featured three of the four best players from that vaunted draft class and closed out Oklahoma City’s even younger group, led by Kevin Durant. To really drive a stake in the previous era, the Heat got past Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals and the Thunder beat the Spurs in the West. The 2012 final four wasn’t just a hunt for a World Championship, it was a proving ground to see if the old-school was still able to knock off the new-school. The young kids passed with flying colors.

So who’s on the team anyway? Let’s take a look.

Guards- Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, James Harden, Eric Gordon and Kobe Bryant.

Forwards- LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, Blake Griffin and Kevin Love.

Center- Tyson Chandler.

Obviously this team is going to miss Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Dwight Howard. Of those players, they’ll miss Howard the most. As great as Rose, Wade and Bosh are, the U.S. clearly has other options at their spots.

Russell Westbrook has turned into an All-Star in Oklahoma City and while he’s not quite as efficient as Rose is, he’s a bigger guard and could steal some minutes at the 2 if need be. Bosh is awesome, but the U.S. will probably employ his teammate LeBron James at the 4 a lot of times and when he’s not there, Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Love may be instead. Pretty decent back-up plan if you can get it. Wade was the best player through the whole 2008 Olympics, but has been banged up through the playoffs and needs the rest. Besides, the U.S. has that Durant kid ready to shoot wide open 30 footers at the 2 and Bryant involved as well.

My thoughts were pretty well summed up by a prominent NBA writer when the team was announced; the U.S. may lack some size and defensive ability in the post, but they still have the three  best players in the World. Regardless of position, the Americans still have the advantage, so while you’re going to bed fearing the inevitable match-up with Spain and the Gasol Brothers, remember that only one country has LeBron and nobody has an answer for him. When you team him up with Chris Paul, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant, it gets to the point where I almost feel bad for whoever gets in the American’s way.

If there is indeed a close game at some point in the tournament, pay close attention, because rarely do we get these type of big-picture questions answered indisputably. In 2008 it was Bryant asserting his authority. If LeBron steps up this summer and leads us to a Gold Medal, our worst fears will be confirmed; the league will officially be LeBron’s until he decides he doesn’t want it anymore.