Last week, I wrote an article questioning whether or not USA Basketball might lose in Rio. I came to a conclusion that based on their recent close decisions, that could be possible. You shut me up real quick, Team USA. I will never doubt ‘Merica again. So, now let’s do a complete 180 and pretend like I never doubted you guys.
With the 2016 Summer Olympics over and plenty of gold medals to go around for USA Basketball, the players will head back to their respective NBA teams and get to work on the 2016-17 season. Meanwhile, the rest of the world’s basketball talent will return home, eventually going back to the drawing board to prepare for Tokyo in 2020. Though some came close, nobody was able to defeat the juggernaut that is the United States, and only time will tell if anyone will manage to dethrone them next time around.
Second only to soccer, basketball is a global phenomenon. More people are playing basketball around the world now than ever before, and children in China, Argentina and France are growing up idolizing Steph Curry and Lebron James. A few decades have passed since basketball first made itself a dominant global presence, back when Michael Jordan and other stars of the 1980s gave the sport character and excitement. Despite all this time in the limelight, we’re still not seeing the rest of the world catch up to the United States in the Olympics. Athens aside, USA Basketball has been a dominant force since 1992. In that year, opposing players literally stood in awe at the raw talent of the Dream Team. It was like they went into the Revolutionary War with tanks and machine guns. People just didn’t know how react or defend themselves. Since then, the rest of the world hasn’t gotten a whole lot better, and the talent is starting to sink.
In the early 2000s, Argentina proved to be the thorn in the United States’ back. Led by Manu Ginobili, the upstart team managed to out-hustle the surprised USA squad. Since then, however, Argentina’s supply of talent has seemingly dried up, with the occasional prospect rising to NBA ranks, but not much beyond that. Looking at some other previous challengers, the story is very similar. Spain had the Gasol brothers, but now they’re getting old too. Other teams like France, Italy and Russia have medaled in recent years, but have also failed to even qualify for the games in others. As we look ahead to future Olympic Games, a new crop of nations could be poised to compete with the United States. The bigger question, however, is if they will be a flash in the pan or a worthy adversary.
In recent years, the NBA has drafted an increasing amount of players from Europe. Talent is definitely growing over there; the only problem is, there is 51 countries in Europe. These guys often come from a multitude of them, such as Germany, Spain, France or Portugal. How is a European team ever expected to beat a powerhouse like the United States when they only have a fraction of our population and much less interest in the sport? Tough luck. This isn’t really a valid excuse, just consider soccer. In soccer, talent is spread throughout much of the globe, with great players sprouting up everywhere. In basketball, the level of competition is simply not there. The entirety of Europe is a hotbed for soccer, therefore it produces the best talent. The only real hotbed for basketball is here in the United States. Sure, you have your guys from overseas with raw talent. How many guys do you see from Europe come over that are pushing 7 feet tall? Most of them. There isn’t a lot of small guys coming out of there, because there’s nobody over there teaching basketball skills. The only players we see coming out of Europe are huge, hulking human beings. That can’t be taught.
The only way we will ever see another dominant basketball nation is if the level of competition is ramped up in these nations. Think about it from our perspective. We took hockey from Canada and put over 20 NHL teams in our own nation, and we still can’t beat them in the Olympics. We started up the MLS, have more kids playing soccer than ever before and we can’t even qualify for Rio. This stuff is hard. We could probably throw an all-college roster out there again and still win gold. Looking ahead to 2020, it’s hard to envision anyone climbing up to our level. Until then, we will sit back and watch. Matthew Dellavadova isn’t carrying Australia to gold any time soon.