In 1992, the U.S. sent professional basketball players to the Olympics for the first time. The Dream Team’s starting line-up included Michael Jordan and Larry Bird, backed up by a bench that included David Robinson, Karl Malone, and John Stockton. Many people still believe the original Dream Team was the best basketball team ever assembled.
They swept the Olympic tournament facing little resistance. Along the way, they popularized basketball internationally, inspiring adolescents around the world to pursue the sport.
Flash forward to 2004: For the fourth time, team USA included NBA stars. But this time was different. Team USA was up against many of the same young international players who had been inspired by the performance of the original Dream Team.
The American team members faced a no-win situation. Everyone expected a resounding victory from them, but if they lost they would face profound disgrace. To make matters worse, many top NBA stars were unable or unwilling to play in the Olympics. Consequently, the team had less star power than in 1992, 1996, and 2000.
The U.S. squad lost three games and walked away with a bronze medal. In an August 29, 2004 article in the New York Times, William C. Rhoden commented that: “One of the dominant themes of these Olympic Games has been the narrowing gap in basketball between the United States men and the rest of the world.”
So, what is the status of the gap today? In next year’s Beijing Olympics, will the U.S. field a new Dream Team, or will the era of American dominance be ended permanently?
The early indicators suggest that Team USA will be back on top in 2008. On September 2, 2007, the American Olympic Team won the FIBA Americas championship, beating Argentina (the 2004 Olympic Champions) 118-81.
Jason Kidd leads a squad of talented, committed NBA stars. And, for once, American basketball has something to prove.
I’m predicting gold in 2008 for Team USA.