Friday, July 13, 2012

Land of the Free & Home of the Hoops

The biggest feather-rumpling incident in basketball this week concerned Kobe Bryant asserting that he and the rest of Team USA 2012 would beat the team fielded by the States in 1992 – the famed Dream Team that *ahem* united the first year NBA players were allowed to compete in the Olympic games then proceeded to decimate any and all challengers by an average margin of 43.8 points en route to winning the gold medal.

Kobe Bryant's playoff beard grew late this year. (

Various members of the ’92 squad have weighed in on the discussion – largely doubting Bryant’s claim – and Kobe, in his usual fashion, refuses to stand down. While there’s never going to be a definite answer about who would win this hypothetical rivalry, one conclusion is safe to draw:

No other country plays basketball like the United States.

Sure, that statement reeks of jingoism. It’s a chest-beating, chain-rattling declaration of dominance. But it’s not a lie.

Since basketball was introduced on the Olympic level in 1936, Team USA has 16 medals total. Thirteen of those are gold, one is silver and two are bronze. Only at the 1980 games in Moscow has Team USA finished outside of the top three.

Everyone knows how good the Dream Team was, even opponents from 1992. Everyone knows LeBron James and Bryant brought home the top prize with the Redeem Team in 2008. However, less than half of these medals were won after professional athletes filled the national team’s roster. College athletes and amateur ballers residing stateside beat out pros from other countries routinely before ‘92.

The USA women’s team is no joke, either, having medalled eight times, claiming a bronze and a silver to accompany six first-place finishes.

There are plenty of stones to throw about the United States’ connection to basketball, the heaviest being that the game was invented in America. So, what? A sport’s origin and history is mostly meaningless during competition, especially in the modern era. Basketball is now one of the most popular sports worldwide, and seems to be trending upward given the popularity of international superstars such as Bryant, Marc and Pau Gasol, and upstart Jeremy Lin, not to mention the now-retired Yao Ming.

The 2012 version of Team USA already lacked size in the post, and Blake Griffin tore the meniscus in his left knee yesterday. But it still has the world’s best basketball player in LeBron, and Bryant is one of the fiercest competitors in sporting history.

No one knows for sure if this year’s group could beat the Dream Team, but after absolutely crushing the Dominican Republic by 54 points in an exhibition yesterday, it wouldn’t be wise to discount Team USA against anyone they may face in the 2012 Olympics.

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