In 2004 in Athens, the United States Men’s Basketball for the first time since NBA players started competing in Olympics in 1992 they did not win a gold medal. They finished in third place claiming a bronze medal, while Spain captured gold. From that point on they completely changed their approach to how they put a team together to compete on the world stage. It first started by naming Duke University Blue Devils head coach Mike Krzyzewski. The also said to each player that wanted to try out for the 2008 team that they needed a three-year commitment to the process. It all worked in 2008 as Team USA reclaimed gold as they beat the Spanish National Team. Back on Sunday, Aug. 12, Team USA was in the same position and produced the same result.
In a thrilling contest, Team USA defeated Spain 107-100 to win their second consecutive gold medal and capture their 14 overall gold medal in Olympic play.
They won their 50 consecutive game in international play dating back to 2005 and their 17 straight victory in the Olympics.
They won all eight of their contest in the Olympics and they won by an average of 32.1 points per contest. In this run they averaged 115.5 points per contest; shot over 53 percent from the floor; averaged 44.6 rebounds and averaged 25 assists per contest.
The team was led by the three top scorers in the NBA this past season. Oklahoma City Thunder forward and top scorer in the NBA in 2011-12 Kevin Durant (27.9 ppg) led the way with 30 points and nine rebounds on 8 for 18 shooting, including going 5 for 13 from three-point range. Miami Heat forward LeBron James (27.1 ppg) had 19 points, seven boards and two steals going 8 for 13 from the field. Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (27.9 ppg), who said after the game that this was going to be his last Olympic appearance had 17 points. Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul finished with 11 points.
Spain was paced by Lakers forward Pau Gasol, who scored 15 of his team high 24 points in the third quarter to keep Spain close. He also had eight boards. Juan-Carlos Navarro had 21 points, hitting 4 for 9 from three-point range. Memphis Grizzles center Marc Gasol had 17 points. Rudy Fernandez had 14 points and six boards and Thunder forward Serge Ibaka also scored in double figures with 12 points hitting 8 for 10 from the free throw line and grabbing nine rebounds.
“When the horn goes off, that’s the time you kind of let it go. It’s been a long journey for us all, but this game was fun,” Bryant, who won his second gold medal and scored 13 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter to help Team USA beat Spain back in 2008 said to NBC’s Craig Sager after the game.
“It was a challenge and we stepped up to it.”
To fully understand what Team USA accomplished in these Olympics, here are some of the records that fell in this 38-day run.
Durant who averaged 19.5 points per game and New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony who averaged 16.3 points per game in the Olympics became the first duo to average over 17 points per Olympic contests since hall of famers Jerry West and Spencer Haywood. In fact Durant broke Haywood’s record for most points scored in one Olympics with 156 points. Haywood scored 145 points in 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Former “Dream Team” player Charles Barkley in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona scored 144 points and former teammate and fellow hall of famer Michael Jordan scored 137 points in the 1984 games in Los Angeles.
On 16 occasions in this Olympics has a member of Team USA scored double-digits in a quarter. In the Semifinals versus Argentina, Bryant scored 11 points in the first quarter; Anthony scored 12 in the third quarter and Durant had 12 points in the fourth quarter.
In the Aug. 2 preliminary game against Nigeria they scored a U.S.A. Olympic record 156 points in an Olympic record 83-point win. They made an Olympic record 59 field goals, which included 29 three’s on 46 attempts. Anthony scored a US Olympic record 37 points going 13 for 16 from the field, including making 10 three’s in 12 tries in just 14 minutes and 29 seconds. The previous mark was held by former NBA player Stephon Marbury who scored 31 points in an Olympic game back in 2004.
One player who really made this Olympics his coming out party and showed the world that he is one of the very best is James.
In the last four games alone, he showed why he was named Most Valuable Player in the NBA in three of the last four seasons.
In the Aug. 4 preliminary game he scored nine of his 20 points in the fourth quarter in Team USA’s 99-94 win versus Lithuania. Two days later versus Argentina he authored the first seven points of the third quarter finishing with 18 points in all in Team USA’s 126-97 win. In the Aug. 8, quarterfinals against Australia, James recorded the first triple-double in US Olympic history with 11 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists in the 119-86 win. In the Semifinals versus Argentina, James had 18 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
He did as he did during the regular season and in the Heat’s run to the title played a all around brand of ball that made his team better and silenced all the critics that made their voices very clear when he “took his talents to South Beach” and went down in defeat in the Finals in 2011 to the Dallas Mavericks. One year later he became just the second player in Olympic history to be named MVP of the regular season, the Finals, to win a championship and a gold medal. The other is Michael Jordan who accomplished all of that in 1992. He also joined Anthony and David Robinson to be the only American players to win three medals in the Olympic. He also in these Olympic passed hall of famer Scottie Pippen into first all-time in US Olympic in assists and passed Barkley into third place all-time in US Olympic scoring with 266 points. James and Anthony were on the 2004 team that came in third in the Olympics garnering the bronze medal.
“I just wanted to try to make an imprint on the game. I had four fouls, but when I got back into the game, I wasn’t going to leave home with those four fouls. I just wanted to try to come in, be aggressive and blessed enough that I was able to make a couple of shots to help out team win,” James said to Sager after the game.
No one understands how much James meant to this team and how great of a player than he is than Coach K who said, “He’s the best player in the game right now… He understands the game and there’s not a part of the game that he cannot do well. He can play every position and he’s a great student of the game.”
Speaking of the Duke University Blue Devils head coach, he along with USA Basketball Managing Director Jerry Colangelo together helped to remake a team that prior to the last two Olympics that resulted in gold medal finishes, saw their standing in the world fall after their third place finish in Athens in 2004.
When Colangelo became the Managing Director in 2005, he set out to change the culture of USA basketball and put together a team that would put the US back on top of the mountain. In the selection process this time around he wanted the players that were selected to try out for the team to make a three-year commitment to Team USA. The other part is that it was not just about picking the 12 best players for the team, it was about pick the 12 best that were going to work together. In Coach K, Colangelo selected a head coach that embodies that way of thinking.
It is no wonder why the 2008 team had players like Tayshaun Prince, Carlos Boozer, Michael Redd, Chris Bosh, Deron Williams and Jason Kidd to go alongside the likes of Anthony, Bryant, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade. The 2012 team had Tyson Chandler, James Harden, Kevin Love, Andre Iguodala, Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis that went alongside Durant, James, Bryant, Anthony and Paul.
You had superstar players mixed in with role players who did the little things that do not show up in the box score and who believe in team first.
These are things Coach K stresses and believes in. Teamwork, commitment, respect, courage and a willingness to prepare for the moment to be great.
That is how you go 62-1, with the only loss coming in the 2006 FIBA World Championships to Greece, help lead your team to four gold medals (2007 FIBA, 2008 and 2012 Olympics and the 2010 World Championships).
It also allows this 65-year old proud graduate of West Point Academy that has four NCAA National titles to his credit to express true joy and exuberance like Coach when he Paul scored a lay-up at end of the 24-second shot clock to put Team USA up 104-93 and Coach K jumped in the air to show how he felt after a great play was made.
“They cooperated Craig fully. Basically they said to me we’ll do anything you want me to,” Krzyzewski, who said that this was his last game as Team USA head coach, said to Sager after the game.
“We’ll not play, come off the bench. What ever you say coach will do and they’ve done that every second that I’ve coach this program for the last seven years. That level of cooperation I don’t think people can truly appreciate it. I never have a problem with them in how you sub or whatever your doing. Their attitudes are amazing.”
The question now is, who will replace Coach K and coach in the 2016 Olympics in Rio?
Two guys off the cuff that come to mind would be San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich or maybe Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. The one name though that would be a wild card is Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doug Collins.
Whoever it is, they will have a great opportunity in front of them as well as a major challenge to continue the run of greatness that Team USA has had. The one thing that will be in the favor of that new head coach is that they will have players who will bring an amazing attitude about winning and hard work.
The amazing attitudes of the 2012 team began with James, Bryant and Durant, three guys who are not just the three best scorers in the NBA, but three guys who understand the standard that they have to live up to and what playing for your country means.
“This is all about U.S.A. It’s not about me. Its about these three letters on our chest and we’re happy that we were able to represent our country the right way and bring home the gold,” James said to Sager after the game.
“We all appreciate each other and we all know there’s one common goal is to win for our country so we put everything else aside and came out here and played as a group and we got a great gold medal coming back home,” Durant said to Sager after the game.
For most of 2012 USA Men’s Basketball team, they have made great names for themselves as they have both had amazing careers both individually and have had success on the teams that they play or have played on in the pros. To win a gold medal though is very special. It shows that you are the best in the world. Those that are in attendance in the arena get to hear your country’s national anthem, which in the case of the USA The Star Spangles Banner. More than anything else though you get the chance to see grown men, millionaires show joy, excitement and a sense of accomplishment that is unlike any other.
It’s what makes all your prior accomplishments more valuable and the sweat and tears it took to get to those points that much more special.
For Chandler, he won Defensive Player of the Year this past season and was on the 2010 FIBA World Championship team and has a Olympic Gold medal to match. Durant, who won the last three scoring titles in the NBA, was the Most Outstanding Player in the 2010 FIBA Championships won his first Olympic Gold medal. Westbrook won his first Gold medal. Iguodala, who will being playing for the Denver Nuggets this upcoming season after eight years with the Philadelphia 76ers and helping to lead them to the second round of the playoffs this past season won his first Olympic Gold medal. Love, who for the first time in his young NBA career got a chance to be a part of a winning team and can hopefully take what he learned in his time with Team USA and make the Minnesota Timberwolves into a winner this upcoming season and beyond. Harden, who won Sixth Man of the Year this past season and was mentored by Collins who helped him go from a player with who did bring his A game to the table while at Arizona State to one of the best in the NBA. Paul who helped the Clippers become winners again this past season and now has two gold medals. Davis who went from being part of a National Championship team at the University of Kentucky (30-2 in 2011-12), the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft this past June by the New Orleans Hornets to the youngest American basketball player to win a gold medal.
If there is one thing that can also be said about these Olympic is that there is no comparison between this team and the 1992 Dream Team.
For starters that team of Michael Jordan, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Larry Bird, Scottie Pippen, John Stockton, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Robinson, Clyde Drexler, Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Chris Mullin and Christian Laettner and what they did in Barcelona is why NBA players have continued to represented in the Olympics.
In the 1992 Olympics, The “Dream Team” in their 8-0 run to gold averaged 117.3 ppg; shot 58 percent from the floor; averaged 29.9 assists per contest and their average margin of victory was 43.8 ppg.
Two other big differences is that the front line of that team in 1992 of Robinson, Barkley, Ewing, Malone, Pippen is no where in the same class as the front line of the 2012 team. The other factor is that the 92 team had that cache about them. The opposition was overwhelmed that they were on the same court as the players they idolized.
One example of this is the fact that in one game, a player went to tears when Jordan fouled him.
Fast forward 20 years later, there are 80 international players in the NBA and the world as shown in 2004 when Argentina won the gold medal in Athens, the world had caught up to us. Players walked on the court with confidence that they can stand toe to toe with Team USA.
The other thing is that the Dream Team was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2010. Eleven of the twelve members of that team individually are in the Hall of Fame, Barkley, Johnson, Jordan, Bird, Ewing, Malone, Stockton, Mullin, Robinson, Drexler and Pippen. All 11 of these players played in the NBA Finals at least once and have a combined 22 rings and all 11 played in at least one all-star game. They also have won a combined 14 Most Valuable Player (MVP) Awards.
The 2012 team came into these Olympics with an impressive team resume themselves with this group of 12 players having a combined 43 All-Star appearances, 22 All-Defensive Team Selections, seven NBA title rings, six scoring titles and four MVP Awards.
What separates the 1992 team from the 2012 team is that the 1992 had some guys that were accomplished and many who as their careers went on were able to get to that top of the mountain and win rings, particularly late in their careers like Jordan, Pippen, Robinson and Drexler or have a chance like Mullin, Stockton and Malone.
The 2012 team, five of the seven rings are from the hands of Bryant, with James and Chandler holding the other two. While James’s and Bryant’s chances of winning another title before their careers are over, the rest of the players their opportunity to win it all will rely on luck and how their teams are constructed this year and beyond.
With all of that being said both the original “Dream Team” and the 2012 team do have a lot in common. They were both lead by Hall of Fame coaches, the late Chuck Daly, who helped lead the Detroit Pistons to back-to-back titles in 1989 and 1990 and Coach K, who has aforementioned four NCAA titles and was an assistant on the 1992 team. They both had a collection of superstars who played well together and were all about the team. Above all they both as Celtics head coach Doc Rivers said in the postgame after Team USA won the gold that it did not matter the money these have made in their careers, how cool they are to the public or the kind of brand that they represent. At the end of the day both the 1992 team and the 2012 team can say that they brought the gold medal back to the US and proved that when it came to basketball, that we have the best team in the world.
“Nothing beats winning. It’s not about the money or being cool or your brand. Winning is winning and watching the celebration you can see they put as Doug Collins said sweat equity into this team and they got a gold medal out of it,” Rivers, whose son Austin Rivers who was drafted No. 10 overall by the Hornets in last June’s draft said.
Information, statistics and quotations are courtesy of Aug. 2, 2012 10 a.m. Gold Medal game between Spain vs. United States on WNBC commentated by Bob Fitzgerald, Doug Collins and sideline reporter Craig Sager; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basketball_at_the_2012_Summer_Olympics_; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_members_of_the_Naismith_Memorial_Basketball_
Hall_of_Fame#Teams; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1992_United_States_men’s_Olympic_basketball_team#Roster XXX Summer Olympics coverage on NBC family of networks; www.usabasketball.com/mens/national/2008MSNTRoster.html;Sporting News Official 2006-07 NBA Guide.