The 1992 USA men’s basketball team was something truly special. They were called the ‘Dream Team’ and it was a fitting name. Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Karl Malone and other legends were playing on the same squad and competing for Olympic gold. They squashed their competition en route to the Gold Medal. Basketball fans in the United States hoped that the ‘Dream Team’ concept would become the standard for men’s Olympic basketball; but in the last fifteen years, there hasn’t been anything even close to a ‘Dream Team.’
The 1992 squad featured, from top to bottom, the very best in the NBA. In 1996, the team featured many younger players. No Jordan, Pippen, or Barkley. That team, however, still managed to win the Gold. The 2000 squad also brought home a Gold Medal, but encountered a couple of very close games. At that point, the United States basketball team appeared beatable.
From there it has gotten ugly. In the 2002 World Championships, the United States finished in sixth place. Then, the 2004 Olympic team came away with just the Bronze Medal. The 2004 team even suffered a humiliating, nineteen point loss to Puerto Rico.
There are a handful of reasons for the United States’ struggles in international play. The style of play is different in international ball. The painted area by the basket is larger, so big men can’t just camp out by the hoop and the officiating isn’t as touchy as it is in the NBA; both of those issues hurt the US team. The competition has also caught up with the United States. That point is driven home when you see NBA stars like Dirk Nowitzki and Manu Ginobli playing for other countries. But the main reason for the team’s recent poor performances is that too many of the United States’ great players skip out on the Olympic Games.
Many players have legitimate reasons to skip the Olympic Games. Dwayne Wade, for example, is skipping this year’s festivities to heal an injury. But occasionally a player will just flat out not want to play for the US. Shaquille O’neal hasn’t played to the US team since 1996 and Kobe Bryant has never played for the team (although Bryant is scheduled to play for the team in 2008). During many of those Olympic seasons, Bryant and O’neal were the two best players in the league.
To get back to the top of the international game, US men’s basketball needs to form another ‘Dream Team.’ Imagine this 2008 United States men’s basketball team:
Point Guards: Jason Kidd, Chauncey Billups, Chris Paul
Jason Kid and Chauncey Billups would provide a veteran presence on the squad. They are also point guards that will keep the ball moving on offense and both play tremendous defense. Chris Paul would be a spark-plug point guard that would provide scoring and break opponents down with his speed.
Shooting Guards:Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade, and Ray Allen
Kobe Bryant is the type of player that US basketball has been missing. He’s gritty, tough, and has an unwavering desire to succeed on the basketball court. Dwayne Wade would provide quickness and scoring, while Ray Allen would be a sharpshooter from beyond the arc.
Small Forwards:Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Josh Howard
Lebron is a perfect fit for this ‘Dream Team.’ He can score, distribute, and rebound. Carmelo Anthony’s size, strength, and scoring ability would give opponents nightmares. Josh Howard may be the key ingredient to a ‘Dream Team.’ He is a player that can do a little bit of everything and doesn’t need a whole lot of the spotlight.
Power Forwards:Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, and Amare Stoudemire
Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett would be the captains and role models of this team. They’re the type of low-key player that would be able to keep others’ egos in check. Amare would bring athleticism and explosiveness that would be unmatched by any other power forward in the Olympics.
Centers:Dwight Howard, Shaquille O’neal, and Greg Oden
The centers on this team could be called Past, Present, and Future. Shaquille O’neal will be remembered as the greatest center of his era, but his career is certainly winding down. He would still be pretty effective in international play, simply because there aren’t many men with his size and strength in the world. Dwight Howard keeps getting better and better. By 2008, he may be able to dominate on a global stage. Greg Oden should be there in 2008 just to show the world what he’s got and there’s a good chance that it is a lot.
It is understandable why many players skip out on the Olympics. They play an intense 82 game regular season, followed up by a dozen or so playoff games. But this generation of players needs to field a ‘Dream Team.’ Simply to prove that the United States still supplies the best crop of basketball talent in the world. There’s a good chance that it may not be, but it would be nice to find out for sure.