By Jason Haviland
As the Men’s Olympic Basketball team takes the court in
Beijing, I am struck that 12 great players have been overlooked. More
on that in a moment. Sure, the latest incarnation of the “Dream
Team” went 5-0 in their five warm-up matches. And sure, at times,
the Kobe / Lebron show will be spectacular. And sure, there is a new
focus on putting together a complete team as opposed to a team of NBA
All-Stars, but the recent history of USA Basketball has been anything
Beginning back at the 2002 World Championships, Team USA failed to win
a medal at that competition and finished in an astonishing sixth place
(out of 16 teams). The top notch talent of Michael Finley, Jermaine
O'Neal, Paul Pierce, Reggie Miller, and Shawn Marion could only
muster sixth place?
From there it was onto Greece and the 2004 Summer Olympics, where Team
USA went 5-3 and managed to avoid complete embarrassment by eking out
a a bronze medal. But in the process, the 2004 Men’s Olympic
basketball team lost more games at the 2004 Olympics than in all
previous Olympiads combined!
So, in 1996, with a renewed focus on putting the best
“team” on the court, USA Basketball took a different
approach on team selection and team composition and really looked to
field complete teams instead of an ad-hoc collection of NBA All-Stars.
Can you really manufacture team chemistry?
So, far, I’m not impressed.
Team USA again had to settle for bronze at the at the 2006 World
Championships in Japan. Maybe they got some bad sushi the night
before…but whatever the cause, they crumbled like Baklava against Greece in the semi-finals and went hope with promises to regroup and retool the team.
So now it’s off to Beijing with Kobe, Lebron and company, and I
can help thinking that there are 12 key players missing from this team
-- Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and the 10 other members of the Boston
Celtics who won the NBA Championship this summer. That is the USA Dream
Team. That is the team that would certainly win gold. That is the team
that is composed of complementary players that know how to execute as a
team. That is the team that we should be sending to Beijing!
I am sure there would be many objections about the schedule and
possible injuries and how to treat traded players or foreign players
who want to go play for their national team. All of those objections
could be overcome. The point is that we should send a
“team” to the Olympics and not a bunch of great basketball
players. We can no longer overcome the steady and consistent team play
from teams across the globe with our showboat talent. We must
start sending cohesive teams to the international basketball
competitions or we we’re going to find ourselves continually on
the short platforms and with the semi-precious metals. I would even
prefer that we send the NCAA Champions from the prior March if the NBA
couldn’t get their act together.
Expectations are high this year that Kobe and Lebron will avenge the
last six years of mediocrity. Maybe they will. But if they do, it wont
be because they had more slam dunks or fast breaks. It will because
they played like a team and with a feel for the game that values one
more pass, a little tougher team defense and an the boring but
effective surgical pick and role -- i.e. the 2008 Boston Celtics.
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