Finally! After 8 years of mediocre play by the American basketball teams the USA is poised to win a major international competition. The 2008 US menís senior national team, nicknamed the Redeem Team, has created quite a bit of attention around itself for not having been made up of superstars. But that isnít exactly true. The Redeem Team is almost exclusively made up of superstars in fact, but the difference between this years team and previous teams is this years team does not have the superstar attitude which previous teams have had. All but two player on the Redeem Team, Deron Williams, and Tayshaun Prince, have been named to the all-star team at least once in their career and only Chris Paul is not a multiple time all-star.
Having the all-star power on a team is what separates this team from past teams. Take for instance the 2006 team, two players from that team, Kirk Hinrich and Shane Battier, have never and will likely never be all-stars in their careers. The 2006 team was also filled with mediocre all-stars. By mediocre all-stars I am talking about guys who occasionally make it but you would not consider them super-star all-stars. Elton Brand, Antwan Jamison, and Joe Johnson qualify as such.
For as bad as it seemed the 2006 team was, it gets worse. The 2004 team had 5 guys who had previously never made an all-star team. Three of them, Anthony, Boozer, Jefferson, have since made multiple all-star teams but Lamar Odom and Emeka Okafor are still waiting. On that roster, the US also lacked any playoff experience aside from Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson. Dwayne Wade and Carmelo Anthony had seen the playoffs prior to joining Team USA, Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudamire had also seen limited playoff action. Three players, James, Boozer, Okafor, had not even played on a winning NBA team at the time. Compare that to the current Redeem Teamís playoff experience. Kobe Bryant has played in five NBA finals and winning three of those. Jason Kidd has been to the NBA finals twice, as has Tayshaun Prince. Dwayne Wade and Lebron James have also made finals appearances. Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer have come close, making the Western Finals a few years. Only Carmelo Anthony has yet to make it out of the first round. The ability to win in the NBA does translate into the ability to win in international competition, not just for the NBA either but teams such as Argentina and Spain have guys who have had long runs in the NBA playoffs.
The disastrous team in 2002 by far personifies the lack of winners and superstars on team USA. At the time only two players, Antonio Davis and Reggie Miller, had played in a finals game. In fact Miller, Davis and Paul Pierce were the only players on that USA team who had seen action in more than 20 playoff games in that time. Pierce and Miller were the only legitimate superstars on that team, the team did have guys like Ben Wallace and Michael Finley which would earn multiple all-star spots, but the overall star ability was lacking.
The 2000 team, which was the last US team to win any major international event, did not lack the star power that future teams would. The team had 4 guys who will likely become hall-of-famers in Jason Kidd, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Gary Payton. The team also had a lot of playoff experience. Payton had been to the NBA finals as had Alan Houston. Players such as Alonzo Mourning, Vin Baker, Tim Hardaway, and Steve Smith had all seen the conference finals as well. This experience and natural talent which NBA superstars posses is why this team won the gold medal. This is not to say this team was among the best USA teams ever. The 2000 team nearly lost to Lithuania because not every on that team were winners. Antonio McDyess, Shareef Abdur-Rahim and the case could be made for Kevin Garnett have for the most part been career losers. Garnett had the most experience out of the three with just sixteen NBA playoff games under his belt.
The two USA teams which dominated the Olympic games, the Original Dream Team, and Dream Team III, were packed with winners and stars. Dream Team III, which played fore a home crowd in Atlanta, easily won the gold with six guys who had made the NBA finals, two who had NBA championships, and only Grant Hill and Mitch Richmond had not been to the conference finals. Nine players on that team will be likely hall-of-famers, with two already enshrined in Springfield.
The most famous and the Original Dream Team, the 1992 team, is absolutely packed with stars and winners. Jordan and Pippen had two NBA titles at the time, Larry Bird three, and Magic Johnson five. Only Christian Laettner had not had a deep NBA playoff run, but that was because he had yet to play in the NBA. Laettner is also the most likely not to make the Hall-of-Fame.
The ability to win as superstars should not just be kept at what players had done prior to joining the Team USA. From the 1992 team everyone would end up playing in the NBA finals at least once in their careers. Only Magic Johnson and Larry Bird would not return to the NBA finals following the Dream Team. Barkley, Mullin, and Laettner are the only players who only made it to the finals once from that team, and the combined total of NBA championship rings is 24. The 1996 team has similar results with everyone on that team also making the finals at least once in their careers. That team has a total of 15 NBA championship rings. The 2000 team you start to see a decline, that team has four guys who never played in the NBA finals and only four NBA championship rings. 2004 only has 5 total NBA rings, four of which belong to Tim Duncan. The 2008 team also has only 5 NBA championship rings, but the team has only 3 players who have been in the NBA longer than 6 seasons, the team also has a total of 11 NBA finals appearance compared to just 7 total for 2004. 3 players from 2004 have achieved their finals appearances after 2004.
What does this all mean? It means that there is a mold that the USA should follow to build a team for international competitions. The US needs to send itís best and most dedicated players, and stop sending the mediocre stars which do not win. Send players who year in and year out have playoff success. Being a winner translates into every type of basketball out there, but on the flip side so does being a loser.