For the first time in Olympic history, the United States was finally sending its best to compete, NBA All-Stars. Bird. Magic. Jordan. Stockton. Malone.
Team USA breezed through the competition, was never really tested. Opposing players would ask for autographs before and after games.
At that time, I never thought team USA would be beaten, as long as we were sending NBA players.
Well, fast-forward 12 years, and witness last week's pounding at the hands of an average-at-best Italian squad that didn't even qualify for the Olympics. Absolutely pathetic.
There's no question this year's team is a far cry from the one that suited up in 1992. But what's the difference? I've heard many excuses, and let's examine a few.
Excuse #1: The NBA's best players aren't participating. There is some truth to this, as Shaq, Tracy McGrady, Kobe Bryant and others have chosen not to play in the Olympics.
However, look at the current roster. Tim Duncan is on the squad, as well as Allen Iverson, two of the top ten players in the league. While they're the only two superstars on the team, there's plenty of young talent including LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudamire.
Bottom line is there's more than enough talent on this team to win a gold medal, and go undefeated in doing so.
Excuse #2: Team USA only has two weeks of practice together while other teams play year round. While this is certainly true, it's not a good excuse. Practice or no practice, there's enough talent on Team USA to defeat Team Italy with ease, and any other squad that stands in their way. This wasn't an issue in years past; why is it one now?
Excuse #3: NBA players simply aren't motivated to play in the Olympics. I'm not going to deny this excuse, in fact I think it's the primary reason for their decline. And it's truly pathetic.
Reasons for their non-motivation are plenty≠-they just finished a long NBA season, they aren't getting paid, blah blah blah.
Some have suggested that we start paying the players to compete, and that would motivate them to perform. Never mind that living in the United States has made each and every one of them very rich men, bought them a mansion or two and a couple dozen luxury cars. Patriotism? What patriotism? The "Dream Team" from 1992 was proud to wear USA on their jerseys, proud to bring home Olympic gold; this year's team can't wait to return home to their gold. Or so it seems.
Excuse #4: The world is getting better at basketball. This is true. The rest of the world is getting better at basketball. However, the NBA is supposed to be the premier showcase of basketball talent in the entire world. A sampling of the best talent this league has to offer certainly should be good enough to bring home the gold, should it not?
Excuse #5: Other teams have NBAtalent. Absolutely true. Puerto Rico has Carlos Arroyo, and Canada has Steve Nash. But when you factor in that the rest of their team couldn't play D-1 college hoops, let alone make an NBA team, that excuse becomes rather pathetic. Let's not forget that team USA is essentially an NBA All-Star team.
So what can be done? In my estimation, there's only a couple of options. First, we could send our best college players, as has been done in years past.
The college kids would most certainly be more hungry, and winning the gold would actually mean something to them.
Problem is, the rest of the world has gotten better, and not just by a little. If our college players couldn't compete 20 years ago, they certainly couldn't do so now. Team USA would have a tough time winning any medal, let alone the gold.
Another option would be to compensate the team members, making it "worthwhile" for the NBA's best players to participate. I have no doubt that with Bryant, McGrady and Shaq the United States would hardly be tested, unmotivated or not.
But if that's what it takes to win a gold medal, is it really worth it? And how bad would the backlash be from other Olympic athletes that work just as hard at their respective sports?
Lastly, and I think that this is only the real solution--just accept that the rest of the world has caught up, and that our NBAplayers giving 50 percent just isn't enough to win a gold medal anymore. Those who care about USA Olympic Basketball will just have to accept that our team is going to lose games, and sometimes badly.
If the players competing in the games don't care enough about the event, then why should the general public? There are plenty of other Olympic athletes who do care if they win or lose, do have a sense of patriotism. Lets cheer for them instead.