It should be the greatest roster of all time. ALL TIME. In video game terms, a perfect team carries a 99 rating across the board—this team should be rated ∞ and be able to absolutely embarrass the 99 team in simulation. Every time.
I’m talking about the USA Basketball Men’s Senior National Team. Team USA.
Most of the time, it’s spot on. The best team in the world. Literally. According to Wikipedia, the United States fields the most successful international team: 16 Olympic tournaments entered, 16 medals won. With 13 of them being of the golden variety.
Add the 16 World Championships appearances and their 11 medals (4 gold). And the 9 FIBA Americas Championship appearances, complete with 7 medals (6 gold). And also add the 13 medals (8 gold) from 16 Pan American Games showings.
That’s 47 medals won in 57 international basketball competitions. 31 of them are golden… Wait for it… Wait for it… Yup. That means we (Team USA) win a medal 82.456% of the time. And just over half the time (54.386%), we’re taking the top spot.
But we can do better! Seems stupid to suggest, but it’s true.
It began in 1989 when FIBA approved the use of professional players from the NBA. Big mistake, rest of the world. We formed the “Dream Team”. A few quick facts about the 1992 Olympic team:
Of the 12 players on the roster, ten of them were considered among the NBA’s top 50 greatest players in 1996.
- Coach Chuck Daly called zero timeouts during the tournament. ZERO.
- Including the qualifying tournament, the team went 14-0…
- Averaging 117.3ppg…
- Winning by an average of 43.8 points per game. Three times, the point differential was more than the losing team scored.
- The team was elected to the Hall of Fame… where 11 of the 12 are also INDIVIDUALLY enshrined.
- Michael Jordan was the only player to start all 8 Olympic games…
- Charles Barkley outscored him, 18.0ppg to 14.9ppg.
You had Jordan and Pippen. Malone and Stockton. Larry Legend. Magic Johnson. The Admiral, Barkley, AND Ewing. Christian Laettner (who got the nod over a young Shaq). It was an amazing team. The baseline for greatness.
“Dream Team II” was in full effect for the 1994 World Championships. Not quite a mirror image of the original “Dream Team”—in fact, a total roster overhaul. It also wasn’t as popular of a team, but its success continued. Few notes:
Two more top 50 players (Shaq and Isiah).
- Tim Hardaway and Isiah Thomas were injured and did not play.
- Another undefeated tournament.
- Won each game by an average of 37.7ppg.
- Scored the fewest points by a “Dream Team” in a 97-58 win over Greece.
- Leading scorer was Shaq, 18.0ppg.
This was a younger team than the 92 version. Still a great team. Kevin Johnson and Dan Majerle. Dumars and Isiah (almost). Grandmama and Zo. Shawn “Reign Man” Kemp. Shaq. Reggie. The Human Highlight Film, Dominique Wilkins. Maybe not as fundamentally great as 92. But this was the mid-90s. This team had swag before swag was important.
If 92 was old-school and 94 was newer-school, the 1996 Olympic team was the hybrid. And of course, it was named “Dream Team III”. I think this was the best classic version, but only because I can remember watching the games. The 96 Olympics were in Atlanta, Georgia so this felt like the HOME team. For whatever reason, these games were larger than life for me as a kid.
- Five members of Dream Team v.92 PLUS two members of Dream Team 4.94 PLUS another top 50 great (Hakeem the Dream).
- Another undefeated performance.
- A 31.8ppg winning margin (which, as you can see, dropped for the 3rd tournament in a row).
- Four games with less than 100 points scored (and a new low of 87, against Angola).
- No one started all 8 games. Pippen started 7.
- Scoring was evenly distributed…
- Led by Barkley’s 12.4…
- 9 of the 12 players scored in the 8.4-12.4ppg range.
The 96 version was an even blend of traditional play and the growing flashy style. Maybe it was a home field advantage thing, but 96 felt like a great team. Malone and Stockton again. Penny Hardaway and Shaq Attack (again). Barkley, Pippen, and the Admiral again. Reggie (again) and Gary “The Glove” Payton. This was probably the team that planted the trash-talking seeds.
Then things got muddy. The 1998 World Championships gave us Team USA’s least impressive version**. A labor lockout meant that no NBA players could represent***. A major blemish on an otherwise-perfect record. There would be no “Dream Team IV”… instead, we got the “Dirty Dozen”.
**Please note that I said least IMPRESSIVE. Not least successful.
***Next time a lockout is on the horizon, let us remember this team.
- Only one member would see NBA success: Brad Miller.
- The team was comprised of players from college, the “minor league”—the CBA, and European pro leagues.
- Led by such household names as Jimmy Oliver… Jason Sasser… Michael Hawkins… Gerard King… David Wood…
- Still finished a solid 7-2, with a bronze medal to show for it.
- Never broke 100 points (but did set a new low of 64 against Russia).
- Oliver lead the team with 11.8ppg (which would have still been 3rd best on “Dream Team III”).
By Team USA standards/expectations, this team sucked. That’s not the fault of the “Dirty Dozen”… in fact, major props to them. But without the lockout, we would have put this team on the floor: Tim Duncan, Tim Hardaway (again), Vin Baker, Gary Payton (again), Terrell Brandon, Kevin Garnett, Tom Gugliotta, Grant Hill (again), Allan Houston, Christian Laettner (again), Glen Rice, and Chris Webber. And I,for one, believe we would have probably gone undefeated again. The “lost” team resembles “Dream Team II” in a lot of ways… but if the team we put out took the bronze, it’s reasonable to think our preferred team could have taken gold.
Out of the 90s and into the new millennium. Not only a shift into a new millennium… but a shift into a new era. The NBA was no longer the yearly home of primarily Team USA members. The international era had begun—Lithuania had Šarūnas Jasikevičius; China had Yao Ming; Canada had Steve Nash; Russia had Andrei Kirilenko; Yugoslavia had Peja Stojaković. Also some of America’s elite stars began to decline offers to play.
- Another team that had a slight “B-squad” feel/look.
- Several players making their National team debut after missing out on competing as the “lost” team: Allan Houston, Vin Baker, Kevin Garnett.
- Should have been the third appearances by Gary Payton and Tim Hardaway in red, white, and blue uniforms.
- The return to undefeated play.
- The first time an NBA-fueled team won a game by less than double digits (85-76 over Lithuania).
- Vince Carter led the team in scoring with 14.8ppg.
- Kevin Garnett led the Olympics in rebounding with 9.1rpg.
A new era; an old result. It was actually competitive at times. Team USA was the best… but they faced a few challenges for once. Of course, Vinsanity peaked with probably the most famous poster dunk ever. Baker and Payton. Tim Hardaway and Zo. Ray Allen. KG. Vince. Jason Kidd. Solid team that probably falls somewhere between 96’s “Dream Team III” and 94’s “Dream Team II”.
Suddenly we hit rock bottom. I don’t know why and I don’t know how. But the 2002 World Championships embarrassed us. We only have ourselves to blame though. Like 2000 (but worse), the NBA stars continued to say no thanks (thanks for consideration, Kobe and Shaq). The world was getting stronger—Argentina was playing Manu Ginobili and Luis Scola; Brazil had Nene; China was still rocking Yao Ming; Germany brought Dirk Nowitzki; Russia still had Andrei Kirilenko; Spain had Pau Gasol; and Yugoslavia was stacking up with Vlade Divac, Peja Stojaković, and Vladimir Radmanovic. We started nonchalant. And the world passed us by.
- Reggie Miller made his 3rd Team USA appearance…
- No one else had international experience. Ray Allen and Jason Kidd declined spots due to injuries.
- Started 5-0; finished 1-3…
- Solid for sixth place. SIXTH PLACE!
- Lost to Argentina to end a 58-game winning streak (of international games featuring NBA-led USA teams).
- Paul Pierce led the team with 19.8ppg.
Ugly. The team looked more like a team designed to scrimmage the real team. Elton Brand and Andre Miller. Michael Finley and Raef LaFrentz (really?!). Reggie and Jermaine. Look, this team falls between Dream Team v.94 and the “Dirty Dozen”… but how do they explain a sixth place finish?? They can’t. On second thought… this team might have lost to the “Dirty Dozen”.
A freak incident. 2002 should have been a freak incident. And when the 2003 FIBA Americas Championship team was created, it looked like we fixed things. The 03 team gave us Ray Allen (again), Mike Bibby, Elton Brand (again), Vince Carter (again), Nick Collison (again… he was an alternate in 02), Tim Duncan (would have been his second appearance if 98 had happened), Allen Iverson, Richard Jefferson, Jason Kidd (again), Kenyon Martin, Tracy McGrady, and Jermaine O’Neal (again). This was redemption for Brand and O’Neal. And it worked! Almost…
Team USA v.23 cruised through the FIBA Americas Championship. Then 9 of the 12 members said they weren’t interested in playing during the Olympics. So we re-did the roster. And entered the Olympics with the “Nightmare Team”. Why a nightmare? Well… the new team lost the first game of the entire tournament. With the biggest loss by an American team in international play. Then they struggled to a 5-3 record. The bronze medal. Barely.
- The new team was ahead of its prime, featuring future stars Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Amare Stoudemire…
- Plus stars-at-the-moment/returning Team USA vets Allen Iverson (again), Tim Duncan (again… in what should have been his 3rd stint), Shawn Marion (again), and Lamar Odom.
- Ranked second among Olympic teams in scoring (88.1ppg) and first in rebounding (38.9rpg).
- Led in scoring by Allen Iverson, with 13.8ppg.
- Lost more games in this tournament (3) than professional American teams had lost of all other Olympics (2).
For shame. This team should have been a “Dream Team” revival edition. The first Team USA form to not include a pair of teammates… although four of them would eventually become two powerful duos—and four of today’s top 12 players. And they took a disappointing bronze. Despite having two of the NBA’s recent MVPs, this team was the insult to 2002’s injury. And it had started so promising…
That was the final straw. Beginning in 2006, Team USA selectors started looking for commitments that stretched from the 2006 World Championships to the 2008 Olympics. The 06 team would assemble around 3 major stars. Statistically, this was almost better than the original “Dream Team”. This team ranked near the top of most stat categories. It was one of four final teams to be 7-0; then settled for 8-1 and another bronze medal.
- Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwayne Wade returned as a unit for the second time…
- Brad Miller made his return after being part of the “Dirty Dozen” and Elton Brand came back for his 3rd stint.
- LeBron was the only person to start all 9 games.
- Melo narrowly outscored D-Wade, 19.9ppg to 19.3ppg.
This was the fulcrum point. Team USA would no longer approach international play like it owned the idea. The teams started to resemble power teams. Maybe not dream teams, but well-rounded teams. Again, no pairs of teammates… unless you realize that this 06 team served as the birth of the South Beach Party team—Bosh, James, and Wade. Plus three of the most soon-sought-after free agents: Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, and Carmelo. But would you except anything less from a Mike Krzyzewski-coached team?
2006 was an attempt by Team USA to regroup after some pride-swallowing performances. The stipulation that players show a longer commitment was evident when 2008’s team rolled around. The team was picked from a pool of 33 talented stars. They had to be hungry because anything less than a return to gold would be another failure. Not this team. This team was the “Redeem Team”.
- LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh, Chris Paul, and Carmelo Anthony kept their 06 spots.
- Carlos Boozer made his second appearance and Jason Kidd, his third.
- And this team finally had Kobe.
- An undefeated tournament…
- Beating the competition by an average of 32.2ppg.
- The closest game was an 11-point victory over defending world champs Spain (featuring Rudy Fernandez and Pau Gasol).
- Five players with double digit scoring averages (led by D-Wade’s 16.0ppg).
Major consistency in 08. The “Redeem Team” played 8 games. LeBron, Kobe, Melo, Dwight Howard, and Jason Kidd started 8 games each. Another international appearance by Miami’s Big 3. Another impressive Coach K job. The “Redeem Team” brought USA basketball back to prominence. The addition of Kobe turned the 08 Team USA into this era’s version of the 92 “Dream Team”.
USA basketball returned in 2008. They had to prove it in 2010. The “Redeem Team” was mostly expected to form up again. But it didn’t. And once again, we were stuck with our second-best unit—the “B-Team”. This team was heavy on guards, but loaded on potential. Enough potential to just walk through the competition and leave with a gold medal.
Lamar Odom was the only person with previous national experience.
- A perfect 9-0 record…
- 25-1 under Coach K.
- Only scored less than 81 once (a 70-68 win over Brazil)…
- Never gave up more than 79.
- Kevin Durant killed the world with 22.8ppg (scoring a record 205 points in 9 games)…
- No one else scored more than 10.0… they didn’t need to.
This supplants “Dream Team III” as my favorite team. Look how it was composed. Durant and Westbrook. Mr. Big Shot, Chauncey Billups. Chandler and Iggy. Shooters like Curry and D-Rose. Glass-pounders like Kevin Love and Lamar. This team was stacked! And it was considered the “B-Team”! I know… stars like Kobe, LeBron, D-Wade, and Melo were absent. But that might have been overkill. Like USA Softball. It might have been so unfair that basketball would get crossed up the Olympic program.
That brings us to 2012. Another Olympic formation.
Once again, the United States sits at the top of the international basketball world.
The final roster hasn’t been decided. But the pool from which the team will be made is ridiculous. It’s reminiscent of “Dream Team III”—a sexy combination of “Redeem Team” players and “B-Team” players. It’s gonna be an epic team. One that will spark the debate: 92 “Dream Team” Classic or 2012 “Dream Team” Reboot.
- Carmelo, LeBron, and D-Wade might make their 4th team. Together.
- Bosh and Lamar might make their 3rd.
- Billups, Kobe, Chandler, Durant, Gay, Gordon, Iguodala, Love, Westbrook, and Deron Williams could be making their USA returns.
- LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, and James Harden could make their debuts.
- Anthony Davis may pull a Christian Laettner and perform on the world’s stage before he suits up for the NBA**.
**What a potential letdown… to go from possible 2012 Olympic gold medalist to… holding up a Charlotte Bobcats jersey…
- Dwight and Rose could have returned if not for injuries.
But it all takes us back to the original issue: this should be the greatest roster of all time. Will it be?
Or is the habit of selecting players year+ out preventing us from displaying new treasures. There’s still time. We can be flexible. We need to scrap the idea of trying to find a new “Dream Team”… and perhaps look at making the first “FANTASY Team”.