On Sunday, Team USA Men’s Basketball will play in it’s first FIBA World Championship gold medal round in 16 years. For a nation with the top basketball league in the world and some of basketball’s most talented players, the USA in recent years has had to climb back from a steep decline in not only success but popularity.
From it’s first Olympic gold in 1936, Team USA Basketball dominated the game, coming 1st in all Olympics that it participated in (with the exception of a highly controversial 1972 silver that was refused and never awarded). With the new rule in 1989 permitting professional players to compete in Olympic sport, the year 1992 saw the introduction of “The Dream Team,” the first Olympic team to feature all active NBA players and one of the greatest collections of talent in Olympic history. The roster included Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, and Patrick Ewing to name a few. Before each game, the opposing teams would ask to take photos with and get autographs from the USA players that they idolized. The team crushed the competition and established an invincible reputation for USA Men’s Basketball.
Then in 2004 it all fell to pieces. Dubbed “The Nightmare Team,” the 2004 USA Men’s Basketball Team lost to Puerto Rico by 19 points in the first game of the Athens Olympics. Twelve of the players that had gotten the team to the Olympics had declined to participate, and the line up changes and introduction of NBA newcomers threw the team for a loop. The team entered the knockout rounds the lowest-seeded of their group. They finished with a disappointing bronze, the first time since the introduction of pro-players that the Team had failed to win gold at the Olympics.
In 2006, Dwayne Wade, Lebron James, and Carmelo Anthony were named captains of Team USA, and they along with Kobe Bryant publicly committed to stay with the team and bring home a victory from Beijing. The team delivered on the court, and their active involvement with the games and support of other Olympic athletes and events had them nicknamed “The Redeem Team.”
Although Team USA has rebuilt it’s Olympic record and rapport, the World Championship rep still needs a bit of work. Team USA has not made it to the gold medal round since 1994’s Dream Team II, but that will all change Sunday night. The star of the team has been Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant who has already broken three World Championship records and led his team to victory over undefeated Lithuania to reach the gold medal round. Sunday’s match up should make for an interesting game as Team USA faces undefeated host nation Turkey. It’s been 16 years, guys. Time to bring the gold back where it belongs.