The Opening Ceremonies for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro take place on Friday evening in Brazil, which means it’s time once again for USA Men’s Basketball to assert its dominance over the rest of the world. While the field grows more competitive every year, and while some of the United States’ top players opted not to participate in this summer’s events, this particular group of basketball players still looks like the best in the field, and fans are certainly welcome to hope that they lay down another legendary performance against a world’s worth of challengers.
While we all gear up to watch the most recent “Dream Team” in action, here’s a look at five of the most memorable moments in USA Olympic basketball history:
#5 – Opposing Teams Asking Dream Teamers for Autographs During Games – Twenty-four years ago, when Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson led a team full of future Hall of Famers through the 1992 Barcelona Olympics the way a carpenter runs a circular saw through a 2×4, the entire concept of Team USA absolutely dominating with professional players was still new. So new, in fact, that opposing international players didn’t have the first idea how to handle themselves in the presence of such greatness.
There is video of those 1992 Olympics where Jordan and the rest of the gang sign autographs before and after games. In some instances, there were opposing players snapping photos with personal cameras while sitting on their own benches, in uniform. Even if the competition was good enough to compete seriously, this kind of treatment suggests they still would have bowed down most games out of awe and respect.
#4 – Vince Carter Dunking Over Frederic Weis – In what is probably the greatest in-game dunk in the history of basketball, Vince Carter leaped straight over 7’2 French center Frederic Weis during the 2000 Summer Olympic Games. Since this was before high-quality cell phone videos and YouTube and Vine, and since there were exclusive television contracts in place at the time, SportsCenter couldn’t even show a decent video at the time, just a picture of Carter scaling Weis like King Kong atop the Empire State Building. But even the picture was beautiful, and now that YouTube does exist we can watch it over and over and over again.
“He deserves to make history,” Weis told ESPN in a 2015 interview. “Sadly for me, I was on the video, too. I learned people can fly.”
It’s a gorgeous bit of athleticism that combines grace and power and sheer elevation, and it still holds up as perhaps the most impressive single play in Olympic hoops history. Even if DeMar DeRozan had completed his 360 attempt over a defender earlier this summer, it still would have been second-best. Nothing will ever compete with that Carter dunk.
#3 – USSR’s Controversial Gold Medal in 1972 – In any context, a game with an ending like this one would have been considered controversial, but the fact that it was not only an Olympic game but a gold medal championship game makes it all the more memorable.
In 1972, when amateur players were still manning Team USA rosters, the United States and their Cold War rivals, U.S.S.R., faced off in a gold medal matchup in Munich that would prove one of the more stunning games in Olympics history. Future No. 1 overall draft selection Doug Collins would hit two free throws in the final seconds of the game to put the U.S. up 50-49 with only three seconds to play. The Soviets inbounded the ball, only to have a referee stop the game with one second left because of some sort of mystery “disturbance,” so the clock was reset to three seconds. U.S.S.R. did not score, and the Americans celebrated like they had just won the gold medal.
Except they hadn’t. A review of the play revealed that a ref goofed in starting the inbounds play before the clock had been reset, so U.S.S.R. got to run their inbounds play a third time. Some bad luck on defense resulted in an easy layup for Ivan Edeshko, and the Soviets ended up winning 51-50.
The Americans were so upset that they refused to accept their silver medals, a protest that was almost as memorable as the stunning loss itself.
#2 – Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and the 2008 Gold Medal Game – Following USA Basketball’s 2004 bronze medal disaster, the pressure was on the 2008 “Redeem Team” to reclaim the gold medal in Beijing, China, but an incredibly tough gold medal game against Spain made that redemption anything but certain.
While the Spanish team had the Gasol brothers to help keep things close for most of the game, Kobe Bryant knocked down a four-point play late in the game and Dwyane Wade (who also had four steals in the contest) hit a dagger-plunging three-pointer shortly thereafter that essentially put things away for good.
It was a massive nail biter following the disappointment of 2004, but a couple of American superstars put the team on their backs and the Redeem Team got the redemption they so desperately were chasing.
#1 – The 1992 Dream Team Winning Gold – There may never have been a more talented team in the history of sports, and that fact combined with all of the hoopla that followed these players in Spain in 1992 makes them easily the most memorable hoops team in Olympic history by a Christian Laettner-sized margin.
The average margin of victory for that team was 43.8 points per game, and the closest anybody ever got to beating them was Croatia in the gold medal game, which finished with a score of 117-85. They stomped a mud hole into the competition and inspired a whole new generation of young people globally to pick up a basketball. The ripples from their sweep of the ’92 Olympics are still spreading. There may never be another team like it.
Without generational stars like LeBron James and Stephen Curry, this year’s Team USA isn’t going to contend with the greatest American basketball teams of all time, but they’re still expected to take the gold this summer. Barring a shocking Olympic moment that would rival almost anything on that list, that’s exactly what the experts expect to have happen.
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