With the 2012 London Olympic’s rapidly approaching, there is no question that the USA men’s Olympic Basketball team are clear favourites to win yet another Gold Medal. Is there anyone out there that can beat them?
The worldwide basketball landscape has changed significantly since 1992. In Barcelona USA’s Dream Team took home the gold against opponents who idolised them and even asked for photos and autographs in the middle of games. The team etched itself into the annals of history becoming known as the greatest sporting team of all time. In 1992 Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and co. decimated all comers to an average of 44 points per game while Coach Chuck Daly did not call one timeout for the entire Olympic tournament.
The USA has continued to be dominant since then but in 2004 USA Basketball suffered a tremendous hiccup. Returning home with only a bronze medal, the country who created the game realised finally the rest of the world had grown weary of autographs and were a serious threat in international basketball. In 2008 the US changed the structure of their entire national team and loaded up with the biggest names in NBA basketball. Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and others then began referring to themselves as the ‘Redeem Team’, a reference to their attempt to establish the USA at the top of international basketball competition once again. Which they did with an undefeated 8-0 Olympic run and a 118-107 win over Spain.
2012 is developing into quite a different story however. The US is reeling from injuries to major stars like Dwight Howard and Derrick Rose. It has also drawn what appears to be the more difficult group for the games. Controversy sparked when Dwayne Wade, a key player for the United States, made comments in April regarding the fact that USA basketball should pay its players as well as dropping a bombshell that he hadn’t totally decided to return to the Olympics.
Currently USA basketball has a team of 22 players who will be trimmed to 12 for the Olympics. The salaries of these players are valued at a combined $254,113,692 and the average player on the USA National team earns $12 million dollars a year. What’s more is the NBA players have only recently returned after an extended player strike for more money. Right now the USA Olympic team looks like nothing more than a bunch of selfish athletes that are driven purely by financial gain and countries around the world are chomping at the bit to get their chance to cause an upset of these selfish prima donnas.
2008 Silver medalists Spain, who are currently ranked 2nd in the world heading into the Olympics, feature a roster comprised almost entirely of experienced NBA talent. Pau and Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Jose Calderon and Rudy Fernandez and no doubt they will be hungry as ever since being defeated in Beijing. In fact before the injury to their dynamic young point guard Ricky Rubio, there was serious talk about Spain potentially being a favourite in their games against the USA, Rubio going as far as to let Kobe Bryant know that he would have to settle for the silver medal in London.
The Argentines also have a solid team with a core group with experienced veterans: Manu Ginobili, Andres Nocioni, Luis Scola and Carlos Delfino who have played together since the 2004 Olympics. France boasts possibly the best point guard in the Olympics in Tony Parker, and has a number of athletic do it all players like Nicolas Batum, Joakim Noah and Boris Diaw who can compete with the USA’s talent.
Even Australia, who despite the loss of Andrew Bogut due to injuries, would no doubt love to topple the over confident ‘yanks’. The loss of Bogut is huge to the team but fortunately Australia is well equipped at the big man position. Aleks Maric and David Andersen are close to the best big men not playing in the NBA right now and Patty Mills, currently playing for San Antonio has been known to have big games against the USA teams, much like he did in 2008.
When the July 27 opening ceremony launches the London 2012 Olympics, the United States will certainly be the nation to beat in men’s basketball, but that doesn’t mean they’ve got an easy road ahead of them.