No, they aren’t blowing out foes like the Dream Team. But the game of basketball is in a better place than it was in 1992.
Following their 83-76 loss to France, Team USA Men’s Basketball faced an onslaught of scrutiny from fans and supporters alike. Questions swirled, wondering if the American version of the game was in trouble on the international stage.
Disdain towards this iteration of Team USA dripped with entitlement and uppity behavior, a suggestion that America should always dominate on the international stage; that a close victory may as well be a loss. In addition to dispelling that idea, below are reasons why there should be no panic surrounding basketball in the United States as the team enters the Olympic quarterfinals this week.
1. A Star-laden Roster, but Not a “Dream Team”
The first reason to avoid a meltdown regarding USA Basketball is the most obvious. While 11 of the 14 players on the final roster have at least one All-Star nod, most of the highest tier of NBA players declined to play in the Tokyo Olympics thanks to the 2020-21 season ending less than a single week before the Games.
Having superstars like Damian Lillard and Kevin Durant around is a treat, but FIBA and Olympic veterans like LeBron James, Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving, and Anthony Davis decided to skip Japan for various personal reasons. That tightened (but didn’t eliminate) the talent gap between Team USA and the rest of the world, to say nothing of Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, and Devin Booker heading directly overseas after the NBA Finals with zero break in between.
And given the improvement of the sport on a global scale, losses like the one Team USA suffered in their Olympic opener against France should be closer to expected than surprising.
Even the “Redeem Team” of 2008, arguably the best collection of NBA talent since the 1992 Dream Team, still needed timely heroics from Kobe Bryant in order to secure victory in the gold medal game against Spain.
A decade later, the inevitability of growth means more games will be more competitive.
2. Overseas Teams & Continuity
While teams across the world have improved, the main reason why the players mesh on the court is, well, they play together. Most of the international teams field the same group of players for their national teams for a few Olympic cycles. In contrast, Team USA overhauls the majority of its roster for each Olympic cycle.
This year, 10 players on Team USA are in their first Olympic Games and those players are heavily depended on to contribute majorly to the pursuit of a gold medal.
The international teams that have a couple of NBA players focus their game plans around those stars. That’s why NBA role players like Australia’s Patty Mills and France’s Evan Fournier look like superstars for their respective international teams.
Their teammates are simply more used to playing with them thanks to years and years of additional reps.
Team USA rotates its roster so much that such chemistry is more difficult to come by. Because of the pandemic and unique NBA season, players were not able to spend time together to develop that bond.
3. The NBA is Getting Younger, More Talented
With the NBA Draft coming and going this week, dozens of players will hear their names announced. While highly-touted international prospects like Australia’s Josh Giddey (No. 6 overall to Oklahoma City) have a chance to make a real splash, the significant majority of the players drafted were American, led by No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham of the Detroit Pistons and the rest of the top five.
And let’s not forget that USA Basketball is more than just NBA players competing for gold every four years. The continuous influx of talent is also a sign of how talented and how plentiful the basketball talent pool in America remains at the youth levels, as well as for secondary competitions like the FIBA Americas.
Since 2004, the last time the United States did not win gold in men’s basketball, 11 of the 17 No. 1 overall picks in the NBA Draft have been American, and not a single one of those players was 21 years old at the time of being drafted. American basketball players are better at younger ages, with the evolution of skill and versatility further enhancing the pro game.
4. The Women’s Game Is Stronger Than Ever
Basketball isn’t just a men’s sport, folks, and Team USA does not only send men to compete in the Olympics. The Women’s USA Basketball team is still as dominant as ever, seeking their sixth consecutive Olympic gold.
With their preliminary round victory against Nigeria, Team USA Women won their 50th straight Olympic contest. In contrast, the men’s team’s loss to France snapped a 25-game winning streak at the Games.
There should not be panic about basketball in America because basketball in America has not been and is not solely a male sport. To quote a new movement: “Women Hoop Too.”
5. The Rest of The World’s Improvement is Good for the Game
Overall, basketball has legitimately become a global game. The expansion of hoops has reached every continent, and incredible talent is available worldwide like never before. If better players are developing in every corner of the globe, it only serves to enhance the quality of the NBA, college basketball, and innovative programs like G League Ignite and Overtime Elite.
Players like Joel Embiid, Domantas Sabonis, and Andrew Wiggins are foreign-born, but played at American colleges — do we believe that this infringes on the growth of US-born high schoolers? No way; better competition makes for a better resulting group of players and that’s why those players enter the NBA Draft at young ages.
It may be startling to see Team USA lose a single game, but one defeat should not elicit vitriol or panic surrounding a team facing such a handful of circumstances that’s less than ideal. Basketball in America is still strong. It’s strong outside the states, too. This is a sign of the game’s unprecedented strength — the only thing that could harm it is fan entitlement that misrepresents reality.