point counterpoint

I need to get something off my chest: I hate the Dream Team. The United States Men’s Basketball team. I was so happy with their dismal performance that I did a little dance.

But as much as I would love to blame the Scream Team’s terrible record on their arrogance and lack of team cohesion, I find that I cannot. They lost mainly due to the simple fact that the rest of the world is catching up to the Americans in skill, speed, strength and most of all, shooting.

The gold medal in world basketball tournaments is no longer the guaranteed property of the United States. In their glory days, the U.S. would cruise to victory leaving the rest of the world far behind, battling each other for the remaining medals. This is no longer the case, as proven in spectacular fashion by the Olympic one-two finish by Argentina and Italy.

Looking at the stats from the Olympics, it’s easy to see that the rest of the world has caught up. The best shooters in the tournament were Argentina’s Luis Scola and Emanuel Ginobili, who shot 65.5% from beyond the arc and 70.8% from the field respectively. Spaniard Pau Gasol was the touney’s highest scorer, averaging 22.4 points per game, and China’s Yao Ming was the top rebounder.

Do you see a pattern? No Americans. None at all.

Imagine that.

Ten years ago, such a thing would have been unheard of. Now it’s clear that the players coming out of the European leagues have been well-coached, well-prepared and have greatly benefited from their excellent training programs. Their abundant shooting skills were on display at the Olympics, where American players repeatedly failed to sink the crucial baskets. U.S. Head Coach Larry Brown said as much himself.

Now more than ever, non-Americans are challenging U.S. dominance both in international contests and in the NBA. The gold-medal-winning Argentine roster was packed with players who star in European leagues and who were too much for the Americans to handle. Their powerhouse, Ginobili, was a big name in Europe before moving on to win an NBA title with the San Antonio Spurs. And there are many more like Ginobili currently starring for NBA clubs—Dirk Nowitski, Peja Stojakovic and Tony Parker are a few notable examples.

And so, as delighted as I would be to place the blame for the Dream Team’s downfall squarely on their abominable hubris, I can’t. Doing so would be a disservice to the non-American players who now present a strong and legitimate challenge to the fading US dynasty. I’m not sorry to see it go.

--Megan Grittani-Livingston

In the wake of the United States’ men’s basketball team’s disappointing bronze medal performance in the Olympics, it’s tempting to slam dunk my argument that the Americans nevertheless remain, far and away, the best basketball nation in the world. Kobe Bryant. Tracy McGrady. Shaq. Jason Kidd. Kevin Garnett. Not a bad starting five. Yet every one of these all-world stars declined invitations to play for the Athens-bound team. But making excuses for the bronze medal based on who wasn’t there constitutes an air ball for two important reasons.

First, this declining interest in playing in international tournaments is by no means a new phenomenon. Even Antonio Davis managed to squeeze his way onto the 2002 World Championship roster which finished sixth in Indianapolis. Moreover, this team featured some pretty impressive talent.

The nightmare began and ended with the selection process. The selection committee showed a narrow-minded preference for jersey sales over substance. As a result, those who possess skill sets perfectly fit for the international game were overlooked.

With a shorter three point line and collapsing zones, the international game is designed to benefit guys who can reliably drain 20 foot shots. The poor U.S. shooting was much-maligned throughout the tournament. Meanwhile back in the U.S., unheralded players like Fred Hoiberg, who was fourth in the league in three point shooting percentage, sat at home. The problem was not a lack of shooters on the American continent; it was a lack of awareness of the nature of the international game by the executives that cost the Americans. Think about it: Richard Jefferson was their best shooter.

Richard Jefferson.

The international game is also a team game. The Americans’ competition at the Games demonstrated a fluidity that comes from familiarity. The U.S. players displayed a cohesiveness which could only be lauded by anarchists. The solution to the chemistry problem is rather simple—send the previous year’s NBA champion. In this case, the Detroit Pistons—a team extremely familiar with its component parts, able to play stifling defense, and who would have just won a title in the toughest basketball league on the planet.

Sure, the international competition is catching up rapidly with the United States. Nevertheless, the distance between the U.S. and the rest remains equal to the distance of a Richard Jefferson shot from the rim. They just were not given the proper opportunity to prove it.

--Gordon Miller

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.