POSTED: Thursday August 26th 2010

Team USA Beats Greece; Irrelevant

Team USA’s win over Greece in its final exhibition game before the FIBA World Championships was a good, solid win but far from the kind of reassurance the US really wants.

No matter how many games the US wins, reassurance that the NBA’s most hyper-athletic players will bulldoze international teams is gone.   

This can be difficult to accept. Looking at Team USA rosters since 1992, it’s damn near impossible to imagine anyone beating them, let alone teams 95% comprised of players no one’s ever heard of. But they do, and for awhile now international basketball competitions have been unfamiliar waters for the wading US fan.

To get a good sense of this year’s US national team and what they’ll face at this year’s World Championships, it’s worth looking at where US has stood internationally over the last twenty years.

A rule change by FIBA in 1989 first allowed the US to put NBA players on its national teams. The result was three generations of Dream Teams, three gold medals and a Gulf War type dominance throughout the 90s. For a decade, it was a warming novelty to watch Mike, Larry and Magic, and then Pippen, Malone and Olajuwon teach the planet how good America was at basketball.

But three Olympics of dunks, superstars and special edition Nikes led to an international mushrooming of basketball popularity. By 2000, global competition had increased so dramatically it was like a zeitgeist change. Athens would mark the first stumbling blocks for Team USA and the beginning of things to come. In a preliminary game against Lithuania, the US won 85-76; it was the first time a team of NBA players had won by a single digit margin. Facing Lithuania again in the semi-finals, the margins continued to shrink and the US squeaked by with shocking 85-83 win. And while the US would go on to win the Gold over France, it was the end of the Dream Team era.

For the 2002 World Championships, superstars, like Bryant, O’Neal and Kevin Garnett turned down spots, and the US placed an unbelievably low 6th place, despite being stacked with NBA players. American basketball culture nervously laughed, reassuring itself of flukes and overconfidence, telling itself OK, we’ll really try now.

But there would be no sigh of relief at the 2004 Athens Olympics. On a team with Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson, the US walked away with a very un-American Bronze in basketball. In Beijing, the US finally managed a victory, but by low margins, and it was very strong, well coached team, and almost paranoid team that had been prepping for over two years.

Unfortunately, the team the United States is sending to Turkey this Saturday is significantly weaker than the 2008 Gold Medal winner. Other than Kevin Durant, there are no superstars, and while purposefully athletic and lithe, they’re small. And with every candid video of Mike Krzyzewski coaching, my opinion of him lessens. He’s speaks in platitudes and sounds like closeted military general addressing a T-Ball team.

The NBA’s almost best handing a loss of no consequence to a small, bankrupt country whose national obsession is soccer warrants nothing more than a brief sigh of relief, especially since the Greeks rested several top players, including “Baby Shaq,” Sofoklis Schortsanitis.
One might think the last ten years of underachieving has alleviated the pressure from Team USA and that now it’s just about competing, but it’s not. The Americans are still expected to win, with a team of Kevin Durant, Rudy Gay and Derrick Rose going against players most NBA fans can’t pronounce, let alone have actually heard of, it’s tough not to. 

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Keywords · basketball · Sofoklis Schortsanitis · James Lebron · Team USA · Greece · World Championships ·

Name: John Waverly

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