A lot has been made about how unimposing the 2014 Team USA roster is compared to those of years past, and without some of the best American players today take part in the festivities, it’s easy to see where the criticism comes from.
Back in 1989, FIBA decided to allow professional basketball players to compete in the Olympic Games, and that decision ended up changing the game of basketball forever. The 1992 U.S. Men’s Olympic basketball team was legendary in every sense of the word, and they inspired an immeasurable number of international players to pick up a ball and start playing the game.
In the 22 years since that first Olympic showing by the legendary “Dream Team,” there have been 10 other Team USA rosters compiled for both the Summer Olympics and international FIBA tournaments. The following are the best of them, and reading this article should put to bed any questions as to why this current team doesn’t look as though it’ll knock anybody off the list:
#5 – The 1994 “Dream Team II” – The second-ever assemblage of pros to participate in international play was Dream Team II at the ’94 FIBA World Championship in Toronto. While it wasn’t stacked with quite the same level of legendary NBA monsters, there were plenty of Hall of Fame players on the roster including Shaquille O’Neal, Joe Dumars, Dominique Wilkins and Alonzo Mourning. Like the original Dream Team before them, they swept through the competition and easily won the FIBA gold medal that summer, defeating Russia in the championship match by 46 points.
#4 – The 2008 “Redeem Team” – When the 2004 Olympic men’s team failed to win the gold medal, a lot of the apathy shown by superstars the previous couple of Olympics dissipated and the big guns decided it was time to bring the gold back where it belonged. Jerry Colangelo took over the roster in 2006 and immediately started putting together a team that could redeem themselves and the country. Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony were much better – and much more mature than they were in 2004 – and the addition of veterans like Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd helped steady some of the other young guys on the team. Also, for the first time the team featured non-superstars like Tayshaun Prince and Michael Redd to help balance out some of the egos on the roster, and that recipe worked wonders in the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. They defeated Spain in the championship to claim the first U.S. gold in men’s basketball since 2000, and that included the FIBA tournaments in 2002 and 2006.
#3 – The 2012 U.S. Men’s Olympic Basketball Team – Injuries killed what this squad was supposed to be, taking big-time talents like Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh away from a team they were very much looking forward to playing with. But in the end, it really didn’t matter. The 2012 roster still had loads of superstars featuring everybody from Kevin Durant to LeBron James to Kobe Bryant, and despite a lack of star power in the frontcourt, they went undefeated and once again beat Spain in the championship game for the second straight Olympics. They looked good, had great chemistry and were as confident and dominant as any team since the ‘90s.
#2 – The 1996 “Dream Team III” – If you’re wondering what happened to “Dream Team II,” they were the group that won the gold at the FIBA World Championship. The second iteration of a pro Olympic basketball team was technically “Dream Team III,” which featured five guys from the first group (Scottie Pippen, Karl Malone, David Robinson, John Stockton and Charles Barkley), as well as some new future Hall of Famers like Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, Gary Payton and Reggie Miller. They won their games by an average of 32 points and actually set four Olympic basketball records in the process, all of which still stand today. Forget all the crazy talk about the ’12 team having a shot at beating the Dream Team; the ’96 squad had the best shot at it.
#1 – The 1992 “Dream Team” – Everything that needs to be said about the ’92 Dream Team has already been said a thousand times, but what this essentially boils down to is of the 12 guys on this roster, eleven of them were Hall of Famers. Watch the NBA TV documentary on these guys and you’ll understand just how dominant they were and what kind of global effect they had on the game of basketball. You put Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson on the same team, even if the latter two guys were well past their primes, and you get the single greatest basketball team ever assembled.
With players like Derrick Rose, Anthony Davis and Stephen Curry, this current FIBA World Cup team isn’t as embarrassing as, say, the 1998 FIBA team that fielded American players primarily from the CBA and leagues overseas since the NBA was in the midst of a lockout. But there’s no questioning that there have been more dominant USA squads before this one.
Hopefully, by the time the 2014 Summer Olympics roll around, Team USA will be back to full strength, giving themselves the opportunity to place themselves among the legendary international squads that have preceded them.
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