The 2016 Summer Olympics are set to begin next Friday in Rio De Janerio, and with them, the United States men’s national basketball team will look to win its third consecutive gold medal. In seventeen appearances at the Olympic Games, USA Basketball has won fourteen gold medals; a mark that sets the bar high and the level of embarrassment in losing even higher.
After losing at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul with a roster of collegiate players, Team USA decided to give a middle finger to the world in 1992, assembling a roster that can only be described as epic. USA blew everyone out on their way to a gold medal, never scoring below 100 points and never winning by less than 30. It was the biggest f*** you in all of sports, and the rest of the world had no answer for it. The dominance continued through the next two Olympics, where Team USA ran away with gold in both. They entered 2004 with a 24-0 record since the Dream Team was installed, and boasted another stellar roster.
The roster included Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson in their prime, as well as a young Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and 19-year old LeBron James. Despite all the skill and star-power, that team mind-blowingly finished third behind Italy and Argentina, who combined for a grand total of 1 NBA player; Manu Ginobili. In retrospect, that USA Basketball team could be in the running for biggest sports disappointment of all time. When youth coaches want to show young players what “complacency” is, they reach for film from 2004 Athens.
You might think a roster starring Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Kyrie Irving would be a lock for gold, but nothing is a given, just ask the 2004 team. While it is unlikely that a 38-year old Ginobili will be any threat to USA Basketball’s gold medal chances, there are other teams with decent talent that are flying under the radar.
USA’s first matchup, China, boasts a roster of young players, a roster which Team USA completely decimated in a pre-olympic showcase on Sunday. Yawn. Next contestant, please. Their next opponent will be Venezuela, a team that is playing in just their second Olympic Games and their first since 1992. So, why should we consider taking them seriously? They are an up-and-coming basketball nation. They won the 2015 FIBA Americas Championship over Argentina, a team that beat Team USA in the 2004 Olympics. They may be an afterthought to us, but they are familiar to the big stage; over 20,000 were in attendance for the final in that tournament.
France is perhaps the biggest threat from a talent standpoint for the United States. 4 NBA players are on their roster, highlighted by Boris Diaw and Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs. Joining them is Joffrey Lauvergne, a 6’11 power forward for the Denver Nuggets who shows promise as a defender but the general consensus is that he needs to bulk up.
Look, nobody is arguing that the United States isn’t going to win this thing. In fact, you would be insane to say they won’t. However, we would be ignorant to ignore the talent around the rest of the world. It takes the perfect storm to dethrone a team of this magnitude, but perhaps a mix of complacency in Team USA and hunger in an opponent could be enough to tip the scale.