You can call the recently announced USA Olympic basketball team a lot of things, but Dream Team is certainly not one of them. Now, they should win gold without a problem, but so what? The original Dream Team and then the iterations in 1996, 2008, and 2012 were less basketball teams and more experiments. They captured our attention because who hadn’t imagined the possibility of a Magic-Larry-MJ super team? We knew on paper that they would be special, but there was only one way to find out how all the egos blend. It was fantasy basketball minus the fantasy.
Occasionally, the pieces didn’t fit, and that’s what makes the 2004 team as interesting as any. Allen Iverson, as entertaining a one-man show as he is, turned out to be just that: a one-man show. LeBron, Dwayne Wade, and Carmelo were still babies relegated to the bench. LeBron whined so much that he was almost left off the 2008 squad.
Every version since ’92—even 2004—has a bit of mysticism attached to it. That’s what happens when you get all of basketball’s demigods in the same uniform. Many will tell you that the greatest basketball game ever played was the Dream Team’s closed-doors scrimmage in Monte Carlo, where Magic captained one team and Michael led the other. In 2008, Kobe allegedly showed up for 11 a.m. practices seven hours early. It was LeBron, not Coach K, who drew up defensive schemes en route to a gold in London.
But this year’s team just isn’t that interesting. There’s no medley of superstars. Instead, there’s just a bunch very good players. It’s as if, two years from now, the Justice League movie finally arrived but starred Aquaman, Cyborg, and Robin. My head should be spinning dreaming up lineups and imagining locker room conversations after the roster announcement. This year? There are only three fun storylines to watch:
- Does Carmelo—in his fourth games—once again give everything he has to cement his legacy as Mr. Olympic Basketball?
- Does Coach K (Duke) ever allow Harrison “The Brick” Barnes (UNC) off the bench?
- Does Brazil have enough weed for a month of Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson?
Sure, it might just be the freak show of Rio and Zika, but almost 25 years later, the novelty that persuaded Michael, Larry, and Magic to don the red, white, and blue has lost its shine. There’s no other way to see the parade of RSVPs returned to USA Basketball. LeBron, Steph, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, and Chris Paul all replied with a capital N-O. The NBA season is too long, the demand to win a championship too great, and unnecessary Olympic miles just don’t make sense anymore when even the 76ers could win gold. And if we’re going to trot out Routine Teams instead of Dream Teams, then what’s the point? That’s no fun for anybody.
But American Olympic basketball is not hopeless. Here are four ways it can be fixed:
Restrict the team to 25-and-Under
There’s no doubt that there are enough youngsters to field a more than competitive team, and with an age limit in place, everybody would have to play to avoid else miss their shot at gold forever. Here’s what the team would look like today:
Andre Drummond (C)
DeAndre Ayton (F/C)
Anthony Davis (F/C)
Karl Anthony-Towns (F)
Derrick Favors (F)
Harrison Barnes (F)
Tobias Harris (F)
Brandon Ingram (F)
Bradley Beal (G)
CJ McCollum (G)
Kyrie Irving (G)
John Wall (G)
Right now, Kyrie is thinking if Rio doesn’t go well, then he’ll have another chance to redeem himself. But if he only had one shot, he’d undeniably play harder. All of these guys would, solving the number one complaint lobbed at Team USA in recent years.
You’ve probably heard Charles Barkley complaining about it, and it’s true: players today are all friends with each other. From AAU to high school all-star games to the NBA draft circuit, they grow up together. Just look at the LeBron-DWade-CP3-Melo banana boat.
One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is the simple truth that professional athletes are stupidly competitive. The difference today is that rather than player vs. player competitiveness, it’s era vs. era. And for all of Chuck’s grumbling, you can see the seeds of that shift in the Dream Team’s Monte Carlo scrimmage, where the old (Magic) battled the new (MJ).
Guys would be winning for one another, and then the trash talking would begin: Kyrie would say his team was better; LeBron begs to differ. Each team would have to win, or else every member would have to endure a lifetime of chastising from the rest of the NBA. It’s human nature to want to relish your time as the best. Why else would anybody still listen to Journey?
Restrict the team to college kids again
College basketball is broken. The rise of the one-and-done annually guts the game, leaving college basketball super teams and superstar extinct. Even Duke-UNC loses some charm when there are 11 new guys on the court every year who only view their schools as layovers before primetime. Well, make that 10 new guys. You always have to factor in the one white guy on Duke who stays in school for 7 years.
I’ll admit it; I’m likely misguided, naïve, and overly patriotic, but hear me out. If you only allow college kids on the Olympic team, then more guys would stay.
Think about it. Obviously, there’s the intrigue of representing your country, but it could also be a perfect opportunity to do just what one-and-doners are trying to do: maximize draft potential.
They’d be given the biggest of stages, be instructed by NBA coaches (after Rio, Gregg Poppovich is taking over Team USA coaching duties), and could become national heroes (He left an NBA contract on the table so he could represent his country! What a guy!! Wait…what’s that? He goes to Kentucky, and they’re secretly paying him more than any NBA team would? Forget it. He beat the Spainards!). It would become a sign of quality for NBA general managers during the next year’s draft; a gold medal would be basketball’s version of the 100% prime, grass-fed, dry aged, organic label on your New York strip.
Would Brandon Ingram have stayed at Duke for his sophomore year for a chance in Rio? I know I would have. Maybe others would have too.
Send the Globetrotters
I mean…it just needs to happen. It just does. Think about it for two seconds, and you can clearly see it’s the best idea you’ve heard this month. They wouldn’t even have to change jerseys.
And if you’re wondering…yes. They would absolutely bring home gold. Team Australia is basically the Washington Generals.
Lose in Rio
Woah, woah, woah, woah. Don’t shoot. Let me explain.
LeBron, Steph, Russell Westbrook, etc. are able to turn down the invitation to Rio and avoid nuking their shoe sales because everybody knows we’ll win. Behind soccer, basketball is the most international sport. That’s true. But imagine if Germany, Spain, France, Brazil, Argentina, and England’s squads all combined. That’s what the USA has, that level of domination. Occasionally, though, some team like Iceland comes around and sends us back to the drawing board.
That’s what happened in 2004 when we went home with bronze.
Guess what happened next? 2008’s Redeem Team turned out to be the best group we’ve sent since Barcelona. Coach K was able to turn the 2004 bronze into a bat signal, and in strolled LeBron, Kobe, and Dwayne Wade.
So maybe it’s time to light up the sky again. Sure, we might be the basketball Justice League fighting the Teen Titans, but that doesn’t mean we should settle. I want us to make the biggest, baddest Justice League we can. I want Superman, I want Batman, and I want Wonder Woman. I want there to be whispers of epic scrimmages, rumors of intrasquad rivalries, and 50-point routs of France.
And if we’re never going to get that again, then it’s time to find a different form of Olympic basketball entertainment.