Subconciously, there were a lot of Americans who wanted to see their very own Team USA lose to Lithuania Saturday morning.
With the score 84-82 and the United States trailing in the fourth quarter, the critics of the 2012 team made their presence felt as if they actually wanted to see their fellow countrymen lose a game to an opposing nation. Unfortunately for those critics, it was LeBron James to the rescue–hitting a huge three-pointer and several layups in the waning moments–to help secure a 99-94 victory against a determined and fearless Lithuanian team.
LeBron James led the way for the Americans with 20 points, while Linas Kleiza led all scorers with 25 points.
Even though the Americans moved to 4-0 in group play, the only thing that can be discussed surrounding this team is how they can’t compare to an immaculate team that was created in 1992 for the Summer Olympics in Barcelona. With a core including Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and Clyde Drexler, the American basketball team steamrolled through six games in the Tournament of the Americas and then eight games in the Olympics.
They won all six of their Tournament games by at least 38 points, including a 79-point victory against Cuba, and then won every game by at least 32 points in the Olympics, with the closest game being a 117-85 victory over Croatia in the Gold Medal game. They won five games by at least 40 points and even pulled out a 116-48 victory in the opening game against a starstruck Angola team that wound up allowing the Americans to score 44 consecutive points.
Not one team stood a chance. The Americans were stacked with champions and league MVP’s, while the rest of the world was just finally catching up to the United States in basketball. The sudden rise in Olympic talent for the Americans arose after a disappointing 1988 Olympics where they could only secure a silver medal. With the powerful Russians playing professionals, the Americans were ready to unleash a few professionals of their own.
As a result, the Americans destroyed every team they faced. No game was close, the Americans never trailed and never had to take a time-out. It’s because of such staggering facts and statistics, as well as the overall aura of perfection surrounding the team, that sets this team in such high regards in the minds of basketball historians. They consider this team untouchable at every aspect and there is absolutely no way a future team could even come close to threatening their peak position at the top.
The 2012 team has already been considered out of the question–four games into the Olympics, and especially after that close victory against Lithuania.
They were considered out of it by their second exhibition game, which was a 11-point victory over Brazil. The critics immediately came out and lambasted the team for being in a close game with a team that featured NBA stars in Leandro Barbosa, Nene Hilario and Anderson Varejao. Things only got worse when they secured an 86-80 victory over Argentina a few days later; critics jumped on the team for failing to put away an excellent Argentinian team that featured the likes of Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola and Tiago Splitter.
But that 23-point victory against rival Spain? It’s expected.
That’s the problem for this 2012 team. They came in with such lofty expectations and with so much talent that it became a legitimate thought to believe they were capable of testing the 1992 team. It wasn’t a far-fetched idea; the 2012 team is sporting the MVP and MVP runner-up, as well as a five-time NBA champion, the reigning three-point shooting champion and reigning Sixth Man of the Year. Even without Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the ’12 team couldn’t stop the comparisons between themselves and the ‘Dream Team’.
The media only added fuel to the fire. They constantly asked the star players of both the 1992 team and 2012 team who would win. Yet we were surprised when Kobe Bryant said that the 2012 team would win. How could you be surprised that this generation’s greatest champion is confident in his teammates? Did you expect someone as prideful as Kobe to say that the ’92 team would run over them?
And asking the 1992 team members? There’s no point to it. They got the job done then and it’s two decades later. They could care less if there are people who think the current USA team could beat their team, which is why Larry Bird is making light of the situation.
A lot has happened between 1992 and 2008 in the basketball world. The 1992 team’s toughest competition was a Croatian squad that featured one NBA player in Drazen Petrovic and a future NBA player in Toni Kukoc. 2012’s toughest competition could be considered Spain–a team that features Marc and Pau Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Juan Carlos Navarro, Rudy Fernandez and Ricky Rubio. See the difference?
All but one of the international teams competing in basketball have an NBA player. Even the Nigerian team the United States beat by 83 points featured a former NBA player in Ike Diogu and a current player in Al-Farouq Aminu.
The game has transcended past the States and it’s making for entertaining basketball. Why should there be complaints about competition? Is it wrong for the Americans to be involved in close games with teams that know how to move the ball and execute just as well as they do? Considering the competition, it shouldn’t; the United States team is playing against teams with rosters laden with NBA talent.
Take a look at the team from France who was just beaten by the Americans by 27 points. They were sporting an MVP candidate in Tony Parker, as well as other NBA talents in Nicolas Batum, Boris Diaw and Ronny Turiaf.
The Lithuanian team that just took the United States to the brink of disaster? They sport excellent international players in Linas Kleiza and Sarunas Jasikevicus, and know how to beat this American team. If the Americans can’t figure out how to defend the pick-and-roll, then they are in trouble. Luckily for them, they have the overwhelming talent to beat Lithuania nine times out of ten in the situation they faced Saturday.
The debate between the 1992 team and 2012 team should be fun. There shouldn’t be any slim hopes that this team loses to prove a point. The 2012 team should be celebrated and beloved for showing how resilient they are in the face of pressure; not criticized for being in a close game with a good team that knows how to play international basketball.
Sit back and appreciate a good basketball game, before going into a debate featuring two teams that will never play each other. Think about what will actually happen, instead of what’s only going to happen in our wildest dreams.
The Americans play a tough Argentinian team on Monday in what is sure to be a good game. Argentina has a plethora of shooters and know how to move the ball extremely efficiently. The Americans will have to make adjustments to their defense following a poor effort against Lithuania.
See, isn’t it more entertaining to talk about this, rather than seeing the United States crushing every team by 50 points? It adds some excitement to what could be an extremely boring Olympic sport if not for the influence of the NBA. The fact that international teams are finally able to compete with the Americans should be celebrated, not blamed on Team USA for being unable to destroy teams with improved talent.
There aren’t entire teams looking to take pictures with the Americans. They want to win and they believe they can win. The Americans aren’t as scary and it’s seen in games against Lithuania and Argentina.
And I couldn’t be more satisfied.