With the embarrassing losses in the 2004 summer games in Athens, and the humiliation in the 2002 world championships in Indianapolis. Where for the first time since the United States began sending professionals to represent the US, the United States did not win the gold. It leaves many basketball fans wondering are American Basketball players falling behind the rest of the world? Or is this a fluke? Or are foreign players better then American players? Or do they just play better team basketball? |
With the exception of the 2004 Athens games, the United States had won the gold metal in basketball, in all but three years. The 1980 games in Moscow which the USA did not participate, The 1988 games in Seoul, South Korea; in which the Soviet Union sent professional Athletes against American amateur athletes, and the 1972 games in Munich, which the Soviets where given 3 chances to win the game, in what is the most controversial finish in organized basketball History. Now the United States has been sending professionals just like every other country in FIBA (International Basketball Federation). But unlike the 92 games in Barcelona, and the 96 games in Atlanta, American Dominance has steadily gone downhill. In 1992 the United States average margin of victory was 50.5 points per game, while in 1996 it was 45.2 points per game. In both such complections the United States easily coasted to a gold metal. In the 2000 games in Sydney, the US margin of victory was just 10 points, and in 2004 in Athens the margin of victory had fallen to just 4.5 points per game. Granted the 1992 team was probably the greatest team ever assembled, having the likes of Michael Jordan, David Robinson, Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Karl Malone on the roster. But the 1992 team had to deal with hardships unlike any of the ďDream TeamsĒ that have been assembled since. First they lost guard John Stockton to a fractured leg, then they lost their only other point guard Magic Johnson due to his HIV complications. For two games they had to rely on playing a shooting guard(Jordan), and a small forward(Scottie Pippen) at the point, and yet where still able to beat opponents by over 50 points, including a 70 point thrashing given to Angola.
Fast forward 12 years to the 2004 team with the likes of Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson, Carlos Boozer, Emeka Okafor, and LeBron James. Not nessescarily the best players in the US, but they still had to represent the country. And did so in a very shameful manner. First in an exhibition game against Puerto Rico in Jacksonville, Florida. LeBron James, Amare Stoudamire, and Allen Iverson donít show up to practice. Then a week later instead of resting like their opponents, team USA went out and partied in Germany. The next night they got blown out by Italy. Marking the first ever American pre-Olympic exhibition loss. Ending a 105 game winning streak. Even after that, team USA did not learn. The next game against Germany, they built a comfortable lead, and then stopped playing with about five minutes to go in the game. Germany made a huge run, and tied the score with less the 5 seconds to play. And then Allen Iversons half court prayer at the buzzer saves team USA. then a week later in back-to-back games in Istanbul, Turkey, Team USA again builds leads, only to nearly lose them. Then they go into the Olympics, their first match-up is against a team thought to be far inferior then team USA; Puerto Rico. Team USA scored the first two points, then they would never lead again. Puerto Rico lead by guard Carlos Arroyo crushed team USA, handing the Americans their largest Olympic loss ever. A week later team USA would blow another 4th quarter lead to Lithuania, and lose their second Olympic game, this was the first time ever that the Americans had lost 2 games in the same Olympics. A few nights later the Americans Gold Medal hopes where dashed by Argentina. The USA would vindicated themselves and win the Bronze, but for a team that was supposable the team to beat, it was a huge disappointment.
This decline in American basketball just hasnít been seen in the World arena either, it is become increasingly noticeable in the NBA(National Basketball Association). Foreign players are being drafted at an increasingly large number every year. Since 1997 3 non US born players have been drafted #1 overall. Including Tim Duncan from the US virgin Islands, (1997 by San Antonio), Michael Olowokandi from Mali (1998 by the Los Angeles Clippers), and Yao Ming from China (2002 by Houston). In the previous 50 years of the NBA, only two players not to be born in the United States had been drafted #1. Hakeem Olajuwon from Nigeria (1984 by Houston), and Patrick Ewing (1985 by New York). Yao Mingís pick was especially odd since he became the first foreign player to be drafted number one, who had never played college ball in the United States.
Teams are more willing to draft foreign players, because they are more coachable, than American players. The influx of high school players into the NBA hasnít helped either. Though for the most part the two are the same, most Foreign players, are willing to sit a year or two, and learn the game; while American players expect to be playing right away. Foreign as a rule of thumb, never learn to play defense. That seems to be left up to American players, While the American players do a good job at it, teams will exploit this, and some teams are left playing 4 on 5 basketball.
What should be done to help curve the influx of foreign players? Well for starters lets put an age cap on entrance into the NBA; and make it about 20 years of age. This would eliminate from the NBA, both unready high school entries such as Leon Smith, and DeShawn Stevenson, as well as young unready foreign players like Nikolas Tskitisivili. While at the same time, helping the NCAA(National Collegiate Athletic association), and the NJCAA(National Junior Collegiate Athletic Association), both leagues have seen a substantial decrease in play since players are jumping to the professional leagues. Also while player are in the college ranks, they could be taught how to play basketball. As for the Foreign entries, make it so that they, like American players would have to be 20 years old to enter the NBA. The foreign players could either go into an American college, or goto the European leagues.
Secondly, next summer when the NBA owners and players meet to discuss the CBA(Collective Bargaining agreement), make it so that if the USOC(United States Olympic Committee) selects players to represent the US, they have to play. Unless of corse they need to rehabilitate an injury. One of the problems the 2004 team faces was the fact that only Tim Duncan, and Allen Iverson where remaining from the original team. This would force the best American players, to represent America.
Lastly, having NBA players, and coaches start giving back to the cities which wholeheartedly support their local NBA franchises. This would build the basic fundamentals of basketball early on, while making players realize their humble beginnings.