Word last week that seven NBA All-Stars and coach Mike Krzyzewski are making three-year commitments through the 2012 Olympics solidifies the USA as the team to beat three years from now in London.
It also was evidence the U.S. no longer will take for granted its basketball supremacy despite the Redeem Team’s dominating run to the gold medal in Beijing. Americans learned sobering lessons during an eight-year international basketball drought. When the U.S. finished sixth at the 2002 World Championships, on home soil in Indianapolis, it was filed away as an aberration. But after the Americans settled for the bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics, and another bronze at the 2006 World Championships, it was clear USA Basketball could no longer throw together NBA All-Stars and dominate. At the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Team USA finished 5-3. They lost to Puerto Rico, Lithuania and Argentina. Americans were flabbergasted. How could USA Basketball fall so far, so fast? Part of the problem was nine players declined invitations to play in Athens in 2004, including stars like Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and Kevin Garnett. But the team that lost three games still had Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson, Amare Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, although Wade, Anthony and James had just concluded their rookie seasons. To "fix” the problem, Jerry Colangelo volunteered to serve as USA Basketball chairman. The first item on his agenda was to secure long-term commitments. Krzyzewski, the Duke legend, signed up for a three-year gig. Several players followed suit. The results — an 8-0 finish, winning by 27.9 points a game — brought back memories of Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson posing for photos with opponents after throttling them on the court. Even though Team USA will be favored, Krzyzewski said some Americans don’t realize how much international basketball has improved the past two decades. Some foreign teams have five starters from the NBA. "I use the example, maybe there was an 8-year-old kid in Barcelona named Pau Gasol who said, ‘Look at basketball at that level,’ or a teenager in Argentina named Manu Ginobili say, ‘Hey, I would like to do that,’ ” Krzyzewski said.