The United States is home to far and away the best basketball league on earth, the NBA.
And an overwhelming majority of the players are homegrown, and therefore, the United States should win every international competition they participate in, with relative ease.
This has been the case ever since the International Federation made the decision to allow professional athletes to compete in the Olympic Games in the 1980’s.
And the United States have consistently lived up to that standard in every Olympics since. With one exception. The disaster of 2004.
The team was destined to fail from the start.
Their core consisted of players with virtually no international experience, or any experience in general for that matter. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo had just come off their rookie seasons, and were 19, 20 and 22 years of age at the time of the tournament, hardly the core necessary to defeat experienced international sides that had been playing with each other for years.
The team also lacked a true playmaker from the point guard position, with Stephon Marbury and Allen Iverson calling themselves the floor generals.
Iverson is more of a ball-dominant shooting guard, and Marbury was also looked at as a selfish scorer throughout his career.
The roster did include a proven champion in Tim Duncan, but not even his prowess on the interior could mask the last fatal flaw in the construction of the 04′ team; they had no one to stretch the floor.
While he seemed to be selecting every scorer he could find, coach Larry Brown forgot to select someone to play the most important role in international hoops.
A player like Rip Hamilton would’ve fit in this team perfectly. A sniper from outside, who was fresh off an NBA championship with the Pistons.
And it wasn’t one fluke game that got this team eliminated. They were consistently poor throughout the tournament and should consider themselves lucky that they left Athens with a medal.
The tournament got off to a disastrous start for the Americans, with their defense, or lack thereof, being put to the forefront.
They were up against a Puerto Rico side that had only one NBA player on their roster, the painfully mediocre Carlos Arroyo.
But that didn’t matter. The US was run right out of the building. Their pitiful defense and lack of chemistry was exposed by a bunch of amateurs, and a 92-73 loss was the result.
And after just squeaking by more severely inferior opponents in Greece and Australia, the US took their second loss of the tournament, this time at the hands of Lithuania.
Although they didn’t have any NBA players, this was quality Lithuanian side, a significant upgrade from Puerto Rico.
All that being said, though, the United States team of All-Stars still should’ve had no problem in this game, but once again, their lackluster defense came back to haunt them.
Sarunas Jasikevicius nailed a couple of late triples, and the United States lost 94-90.
But after beating the African country Angola by a predictably wide margin, the US captured their first (and only) impressive victory of the tournament, an 8-point triumph over Spain.
Marbury’s 31 points was enough to overcome Pau Gasol’s 29, and the Americans had booked their ticket for the semis.
But the United States team that we were becoming accustomed to, the one that didn’t seem to want to pass or play defense, showed up in the semifinals against Manu Ginobili and Argentina.
An 8-point loss was the result, and a hard-fought win over Lithuania in the bronze medal game couldn’t take away from the fact that this was the most disappointing team in the history of international sports.
Since that embarrassing 3-week stretch in Athens in 2004, though, the United States have reclaimed their place at the top of the Olympic pedestal, putting together two of the greatest teams ever for the 2008 and 2012 Olympic games.
And with a new generation of talent ready to show what they can do in Rio, don’t expect another Olympic disaster of these proportions for quite some time.