Disappointing. That is the only way to describe the debacle otherwise known as the USA Men’s Basketball team. A team once considered undefeatable was clearly anything but that in this year’s summer olympics. The team’s fall from grace came faster than that of “out of service” Pervis Ellison’s career.
Naturally, when a team suffers not only its first loss in olympic history, but also its only medal other than a gold, people begin to point fingers. In this case, the fingers need to be pointed in no other direction than the coaches and players. Larry Brown, one of the greatest coaches in NBA history, is known for taking bad teams and making them good. However, when he took the title of Head Coach of this year’s team, he had no idea what he was getting himself into.
Yes, he was given an inferior team, but Brown still could have led the team to gold had he used his players properly. Lebron James and Carmelo Anthony, two young, energetic players, were buried on a bench of players who shouldn’t have even seen the floor in olympic competition. Keep in mind that these two were arguably the best athlete and shooter respectively on this team.
Instead, Brown chose to give Richard Jefferson more playing time than he should have ever seen. The result? Too many missed three’s and not enough defense. Add to that the fact that Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury were driving to the hole more than the token ringer on your little brother’s fifth grade basketball team, Tim Duncan committed more fouls than he ever has, and the concept of playing as a team wasn’t grasped by any of the players. If that is not a recipe for disaster, somebody needs to re-write the cook book.
However, it is not fair to place all the blame on Larry Brown. It is not his fault that many overpaid NBA “superstars” lacked the pride to represent their country. Security concerns played a major role in many athletes decisions to spurn the opportunity to win a gold medal. But what happened to the notion we would not let terrorism change the way we live?
Apparently, this is not embraced by multi million dollar athletes who would be flipping burgers if it were not for their athletic ability. Look no further than the prima donnas otherwise known as Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Garnett and Jason Kidd. These players alone would have changed the talent level on the team, let alone the many others who refused to do anything for free. God forbid you give something back to the country that has made you rich. Instead, they chose to disrespect the entire nation by turning down one of the greatest honors an athlete can receive.
Once these players decided to turn their backs on the dedicated coaching staff and their teammates, an ominous black cloud surrounded this team. From day one they were destined to lose.
At the World Championships in 2002, Team USA suffered its first loss ever in international competition. This was a major stepping stone for every other nation. It was also a premonition for what was to come in these olympics.
Comparing the two teams, one can see many similarities. Both teams lacked top notch NBA talent because of players insistence on acting like selfish children. Neither team decided that it was necessary to play defense in order to win games. The players who did show pride and represent their country did not play like a team. Instead, everyone was in it for individual glory. Also, both teams lacked shooters.
It is impossible to win in international competition without shooters. Add to that America’s demand to see flashy ball handling and passing, and Argentina and Puerto Rico have a field day with our team. Every other nation plays the game the way it is supposed to be played: technically sound basketball. We all know that concept left the NBA when Michael Jordan began to dominate and everyone decided to impersonate him.
Do not take that the wrong way, either. MJ did great things for the game of basketball. He single handedly saved the NBA after the Celtics and Lakers dynasties came to an end in the early 90’s. He also revolutionized the way the game is played. However, it is that revolution that is causing our teams to lose against less talented teams. Because of MJ, players now only want individual achievements, not team accomplishments. Also, travelling is no longer called in the league. Lebron James was called for travelling twice in his first international game. His response? He looked at the official like he had four heads, when in reality, James had taken four steps without dribbling once.
As easy as it is to call out the players and coaches of Team USA, it is not entirely their fault. The Olympic Committee mysteriously assigned two officials to USA’s final game that had no place officiating. One was a native of Spain, the other was from Serbia-Montenegro. Just a day earlier, undefeated Spain was upset by USA. Spain’s coaches were outraged at Larry Brown’s late timeout and the entire game was surrounded by controversy. Twenty-four hours later two men from that region are to officiate a game involving the team that defeated theirs, and they are supposed to be unbiased?
It is evident that the Olympic Committee botched that one, but when everything is put out on the table, it is simply seen that Team USA was full of underachievers. The question still remains: How will future team’s fare in international competition? It seems like the rest of the world has caught up on us in basketball.
Currently, there are many rumblings about holding tryouts for the next Team USA. While that may seem like a good solution to producing a better team, there is one quick fix to all of this. Americans need to stop believing we are a superior nation in basketball. Granted, we dominated the game internationally for decades. That time has come to an end. Until we crave “boring” fundamentally sound basketball, we will not win a gold medal with our flashy superstars. It is time to stop dreaming and wake up to reality. It is not 1992 and we will never have another dream team.