London 2012 basketball: Why LeBron James and Co. are a true 'Dream Team'
Team USA goes up against Argentina in today's London 2012 semifinal. It might be playing its best basketball since the Dream Team days of 1992, but the achievement is bigger than that.
Could the current US men's basketball team beat the 1992 "Dream Team"? LeBron James has said so, and the way he's playing these days, who are we to gainsay anything that comes out of his mouth?
But something else is more certain, and perhaps more important.
The 12 men of the United States Olympic basketball team are unquestionably a Dream Team – both for one man and for the nation he could not abide to see humbled and disrespected. Because eight years ago, when a B team filled with those few players who did not turn down the invitation to Athens finished third, an American basketball team like the one here in London was just that – a dream.
Jerry Colangelo, director of USA Basketball and architect of America's redemption on the international stage, appeared to have righted the ship four years ago in Beijing when the American team played with pride and respect, and won gold. But only here in London has the full scope of his success become apparent.
The original Dream Team proved to be a firework – spectacular in its initial brilliance but fading over time. With nothing to hold it together but the patriotic plea to players who were exhausted after NBA playoffs and made enough money to mint golden hubcaps of their own, the Dream Team experiment had virtually collapsed within 10 years.
That, Colangelo says, was his best selling point as he began to try to rebuild the program after Athens. As he talked to America's best players, his refrain hit the one note he knew that they could not resist: respect. America had lost it in the basketball-playing world, and he was going to get it back – and players either had get on board or watch someone else get the unadulterated glory and honor of their country.
"The world basketball community doesn't think very much of American basketball in general and its athletes individually because of their arrogance," he recalled saying to the players he met. "If you want to be committed, you have the change the culture – you have to show respect to get respect."
Then he added the kicker: "If we do it, it will be one of the great moments of your life," he said, speaking of the Beijing Games. "And it was, to a man."
And that is what has become apparent here – what could not be clear until another four years had passed after Beijing. Unlike the Dream Team of Barcelona, which struck with an incandescence that blinded the world but then diminished, the Redeem Team of Beijing was only a first step.
Here in London, the team is, if anything, playing better than it did in Beijing – despite a rash of key injuries. Its 83-point destruction of Nigeria devastating to behold, its 126-97 destruction of Argentina in the preliminary rounds clinical. Along the way, the team has conducted itself with commitment and respect. And what's more, they're hooked.
When NBA Commissioner David Stern spoke of a desire to limit the Olympic men's basketball tournament only to players age 23 and under – as is the case in Olympic men's soccer – members of the current team spoke out against the idea.
Kobe Bryant called it "stupid," and other players, such as James, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony, have said they would like to play in Rio 2016, too.
America's Dream Team 2 is gathering pace, because Colangelo put in place the architecture to actually make it a "team" – not just a collection of all-stars who came together a few weeks before the Olympics, as was the case previously. The pool of national team players trains in Las Vegas throughout the year, along with a younger Select Team that practices against the A team. This is the feeder system that has made Colangelo's Dream Team 2 sustainable, with players like Durant, Andre Iguodala, and Brian Westbrook making the leap from the Select Team to the Olympic team in London.
To get the system up and running, "there was a big investment early on, but it's self-perpetuating once you get it up and running," said Colangelo at a pre-Olympics press conference.
Is this team more special than one that included Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson? We'll leave that to others to decide. But Colangelo, for one, feels confident that in another 10 years, he'll have another team good enough to vie for that title, too.