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London 2012: USA Basketball Comparisons to the Dream Team Need to Stop

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JULY 22: Kobe Bryant #10 of the US Men's Senior National Team shoots against Emanuel Ginobili #5  of the Argentina Men's Senior National Team during a Pre-Olympic Men's Exhibition Game between USA and Argentina at Palau Sant Jordi, on July 22, 2012 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
David Ramos/Getty Images
Bruce ChenAnalyst IJuly 24, 2012

For whatever reason, everyone analyzing the 2012 Team USA Men's Basketball team is stuck 20 years ago, and obsessed with something that the team can't ever accomplish. Every time I look on the Internet for content related to this team, all anybody wants to do is compare them to the 1992 Dream Team.

People want to write about what Team USA needs to do in order to "surpass the Dream Team". Every sportswriter seems to relish in using their article or video to make a diatribe to lambast Kobe Bryant for his comments that his team would beat the Dream Team.

Yet USA-Spain is "only" a rematch of the last Olympic final. Most of the main guys from that thrilling 118-107 victory are going to be playing in this one, right? This game is happening on Spanish soil.

This is the first true test for the Americans, and their performance in this game will be the ultimate litmus test for LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Coach Mike Krzyzewski. The media game has already begun; the Spanish players are talking about how they would rather not play all their aces in the hole, and Kobe and the Americans aren't buying any of it

Yet the casual American sportswriter or Team USA "fan" is more concerned about whether this team is better than a team they will never play, as opposed to the myriad of talented teams awaiting them in London.

It's true that most American basketball fans spend all their time watching the NBA as opposed to Eurobasket or FIBA competition. It's true that in the best league in the world, LeBron James is the MVP and the rest of the stars on Team USA are All-NBA or franchise caliber players.

It's true that in our eyes, it seems virtually impossible that a team starring these guys could lose to anybody, and any basketball analyst has to consider them the favorites for the gold.

But this isn't the NBA. To win in the NBA, the formula revolves around having superstars on your team. The 2012 NBA Champions, the Miami Heat had three of them. It's a undeniable advantage to have LeBron on your team when each playoff series is a best-of-seven and the refs recognize that they should call more fouls and protect the league's golden boys.

In international basketball, the game is different. The refs don't care who you are. Only one out of 30 referees selected by FIBA works in the NBA: the immortal Bill Kennedy. In the medal round, it's a one and done format.

If Tyson Chandler picks up three quick fouls against the Gasol brothers and Team USA can't adjust to the size disadvantage, they will go home. Unlike the NBA Finals, there's no Game 2 that they can regroup for.

We will always have the 2004 Athens Games as a cautionary tale. Even a group of NBA "all-stars" can be beat by Argentina, Puerto Rico, and Lithuania. The American sports media need to realize that in the last 20 years, the quality of international basketball has infinitely improved. It's disrespectful to many well-run basketball programs across the world if the measuring stick for Team USA is perpetually the Dream Team. 

For many of us, winning the gold medal isn't enough for these guys. They need to play a style of basketball that somehow endears themselves to even the biggest of basketball cynics who will always consider it blasphemy to suggest the Dream Team could ever be beat. 

Didn't we just see a documentary chronicle how Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson lost to a bunch of college kids because they took them for granted? Isn't that the ultimate proof that in basketball, any five guys can beat any other five guys on any given day, just by playing well together? The operative word being 'together'.

I'm not saying the London squad hasn't meshed well or learned to play together well. But to suggest that LeBron's flag football games with Kevin Durant are any substitute for the chemistry leading to the synergistic basketball you see the Spanish playing each year they have had the Gasol brothers, is simply erroneous.

So before we all jump to conclusions, and start comparing two teams that played a vastly different game, 20 years apart, we need to sit here and be able to analyze what's in front of us. Team USA cares about winning a gold medal. Regardless of what Kobe said, they don't care about whether we think they can beat the Dream Team. 

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