Let’s put Allen Iverson, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Tim Duncan and a handful of other NBA All-stars on a team. Oh, and it’s coached by Larry Brown, and Gregg Popovich is an assistant coach. Is this a fake roster someone assembled on NBA 2k17 to play their buddy out of boredom? Is this a team that would 100 percent have the trades shut down for the sanctity of all things in the holy competitive spirit in the NBA? No, this was actually the 2004 US Men’s Olympic Basketball team.
The kicker: this star-studded team – which also featured Stephon Marbury, Carlos Boozer, Emeka Okafor, Shawn Marion, Amar’e Stoudemire, Lamar Odom and Richard Jefferson – only got bronze. Not even silver. BRONZE. No wonder we don’t hear anything about this team.
The NBA is effectively the representative for the USA Men’s Basketball team, as every Olympic year the US team is stacked with some of the greatest talent in the world. The NBA did their part in 2004 as well – I mean, just look at that roster! So why did things play out so tragically? How could this have happened.
The first game of the 2004 Olympics resulted in a 92-73 defeat to Puerto Rico. Carlos Arroyo, future teammate of Dwyane Wade, ran wild and Puerto Rico took as much as a 22-point lead over team USA. This was an amazing day for Puerto, but an absolutely shocking day for both USA and NBA fans worldwide.
The team had too many small forwards and was too young to garner any respect. To recap the rest of the series of unfortunate events: Argentina won the gold and Italy won silver. Compare this to the 1992 Dream Team that included Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Karl Malone, Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley, all within a five-year range of the peak of their basketball careers.
What the NBA Learned:
1. Youth and talent does not necessarily mean you are set up for success. Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were all fresh out of the 2003 draft class and were all still teenagers. Stick some 18- and 19-year-olds to play with career athletes giving it everything they’ve got for their country’s pride, you’re going to see some interesting results. The tradition of putting a rookie on the roster is a good way to bring on a new talent, but bringing on too many youngsters at once can be dangerous. This especially stresses the importance of having experienced members on NBA teams, even if they are only on the bench. If half our 2012 Olympic team came from the 2011 draft, things wouldn’t have ended so smoothly for Team USA.
2. Indifference is no way to approach the Olympics. Where was Kobe? Where was Shaq? The squad couldn’t really get much more stacked, but some more experience to throw into the mix of high schoolers wouldn’t have hurt. Now with Steph Curry saying he’s not going to participate in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, this question is going to be much more pressing. Granted, the level of talent in the NBA right now is doubtfully going to lead to another embarrassment like in 2004, but a few more superstars deciding to take a break from the Olympics could produce a different story.
With Steph Curry, Russ Westbrook, John Wall, Chris Paul out of 2016 Olympics, Isaiah Thomas tells me: “I’d love to represent my country.”
— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) June 10, 2016
3. The rise of international talent is good for the NBA, bad for the USA Olympic Basketball team. Some of the NBA’s best players are hail from outside the States. Andrew Bogut and Kyrie Irving have Australian Citizenship. Dirk Nowitzki is German. Ginobili, Delfino and Scola are Argentinian. Barbosa (Warriors), Varejao (Warriors), Splitter (Hawks) and Nene (Wizards) are Brazilian – that’s almost a full starting 5 from the NBA on the host country’s roster. Ibaka and the Gasol are from Spain. Watch out Team USA – the Olympics basketball program is going to get really interesting.