In the semifinals of the 2006 FIBA World Championships, the United States was subjected to a shocking upset at the hands of Greece. Team USA would finish third in the competition, a result that put a cherry on top of an abysmal two-year period that saw international teams beat the superstar-laden Americans six times in two years, and keeping them from wins in the Olympics or the World Championships in 2004 and ’06, respectively.
It was an infuriating stretch for a country that was the birthplace of basketball, and the home of the sport’s premier professional league. The United States featured the best and most talented in the game, and yet was struggling to cement itself as the best nation in the world of basketball.
Players were withdrawing themselves from consideration, and Team USA very rarely seemed to represent that, and instead featured players that had no prior commitments. International competition stopped being much of a focus as players like Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett opted not to participate.
Following that ’06 loss, however, Team USA embarked on a rebuild, reaching for the best talent in the NBA that would culminate in massive new shows of desire from NBA players to represent their country. A star-studded roster known as the ‘Redeem Team’ dominated the 2008 Olympics and then took the 2012 Olympics, while also cruising through the 2010 and 2014 FIBA World Championships, signifying a return to dominance for Team USA on the global stage.
With the demand for spots growing rapidly, and less of a desire for the top athletes to prove anything more – with players like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Dwyane Wade already owning two Olympic gold medals – the 2016 Team USA squad changed the guard, ushering in some younger players to make up a nicely blended roster with a few familiar faces.
And so, Team USA roars into the 2016 Games in Rio as heavy favorites, but lacking names like Steph Curry, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Dwyane Wade or Chris Paul. But the target is still on the back of Team USA, who still feature a roster that is head and shoulders above the rest of the world.
The U.S. men’s basketball team opened its bid for a 3rd straight Olympic gold medal Friday with an exhibition romp. https://t.co/SoSX5yw0an
— USA TODAY Sports (@USATODAYsports) July 23, 2016
Carmelo Anthony leads the team, the lone participant of the ‘Banana Boat’ crew of CP3, Wade, James, and Melo that will suit up in 2016, and knows what winning a third gold medal would mean for him.
“Of course it’s huge,” Anthony told reporters on Saturday.
“Representing your country, man, it’s big. But to have a chance to achieve something that hasn’t been done, and to help shape a team that will be competing after me is awesome.”
— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) July 24, 2016
Melo joins a cast of players that are less experienced than the Olympic squads of recent campaigns, but one that’s still brimming with talent. Kevin Durant, the former MVP that now plays for Golden State, will join Melo as a former gold medalist, and will also be joined by former FIBA Champions in DeMarcus Cousins, DeMar DeRozan, Kyrie Irving and Klay Thompson.
New faces for Team USA include Kyle Lowry, Harrison Barnes, Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green and DeAndre Jordan. The team will also see the return of Paul George, who endured a major injury his last attempt in international competition that would sideline him for most of the 2015 season.
George is ecstatic to return to Team USA.
“All the bad that happened to myself on that night, I owed it to myself to come back out here and compete for my country,” George said.
“I wanted to win a gold medal more than I wanted to come back and play because of the injury.”
While this team doesn’t feature the same storylines that the Redeem Team did in 2008, it will be interesting to see the performance of Team USA that doesn’t feature a generation of stars we have grown to expect to see in international competition.
However, even without James, Bryant, Wade and CP3, the expectations remain that Team USA will handle its business in Rio, and bring home another gold medal for the red, white and blue.
Kyrie Irving added, “We hear it. Obviously being the home of the NBA, it should be the expectation for us to win. The talent here is amazing, but we still have to go out and win the games.”
And 2006 against Greece is a helpful reminder that the second part is what matters.
— Dime Magazine (@DimeMag) July 22, 2016