American domination is nothing new at the Summer Olympics, particularly on the basketball court.
Team USA has claimed gold 13 times, well ahead of the Soviet Union's tally of two, and has never failed to medal in 16 previous trips to the Games.
But, as in so many arenas of sport (and life in general), the rest of the world is fast infringing on America's hoops hegemony. The seeds planted by the Dream Team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics have since borne the fruit of Argentine gold in 2004 and three different victors at the last three FIBA World Championships (since rebranded as the FIBA Basketball World Cup).
USA Basketball seems to have a solid hold on international basketball for now, thanks in large part to a reorganization of the program under Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski. But, sooner or later, another country will come along and impose its will on the hardwood, thereby supplanting America atop FIBA's rankings.
Who's responsible for that or when that actually happens is anybody's best guess, though these seven nations are already raising the requisite roundball armies to box the US out of the gold.
The most obvious choice to unseat the US is Spain.
La Roja nearly pulled off a gold-medal stunner in Beijing before Dwyane Wade helped Team USA to pull away for a 118-107 victory. The Spaniards have hung around No. 2 in the FIBA World Rankings ever since, even amidst a disappointing sixth-place finish at the 2010 FIBA World Championship in Turkey.
Despite losing by 22 to the Yanks in an exhibition on Tuesday, Spain still stands a solid chance of upending Team USA's pursuit of gold. In 2008, the Americans dismantled the Spaniards in group play, 119-82, before encountering their toughest test in the rematch final.
The US could be due for a similarly rude awakening if it should meet Spain in the knockout rounds. Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka were nearly unstoppable inside, combining for 35 points on 14-of-19 shooting.
And that was without the help of Marc Gasol, who sat out the exhibition with a shoulder injury, but figures to be ready to go when the Olympics get underway.
But La Roja's window for gold isn't limited to just this year.
Ibaka, Marc Gasol, Victor Claver, Sergio Llull, Sergio Rodriguez and Ricky Rubio (who's recovering from a torn ACL) could all be back for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, joined by any number of rising stars from a youth system that ranks as the seventh-best in the world, according to FIBA.
Further success for Spain, regardless of the color of the medal, would serve to inspire yet another generation of hardwood hopefuls in a country that already ranks among the most sports-crazed in all of Europe.
And, in turn, help Spain to challenge US supremacy in basketball for years to come.
Argentina isn't exactly a surprise choice, though the current arc of the national team might suggest that its ability to challenge Team USA has come and gone.
After all, the average age of the Argentine starters is 33. Only four members of the senior squad (21-year-old Facundo Campazzo, 25-year-old Marcos Mata, 28-year-old Juan Pedro Gutierrez and 29-year-old Carlos Delfino) are currently under 30.
Still, this "Golden Generation" of La Albiceleste has one good run left in it, as it showed in its courageous near-comeback against Team USA on Sunday.
With the likes of Delfino, Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola, Andres Nocioni and future New York Knicks point guard Pablo Prigioni on board, Argentina has the NBA talent and international experience to compete for its second gold in the last three Olympiads.
And while there may be a fallow period to follow, don't be surprised if Argentina rises from the ashes before too long. Argentina currently sits fourth in the FIBA boys rankings, well ahead of any of its South American neighbors, thereby suggesting a bright future on the horizon for one of the great sporting nations of the Southern Hemisphere.
Ahead of even Brazil, which also gave Team USA a scare in the Olympic tune-ups.
The US won't see Ruben Magnano's squad until the quarterfinals, at the earliest. That should come as something of a relief to the Americans, who struggled to contain Brazil's guards and forwards in Washington, D.C. on July 16th.
Even so, Brazil is a bit under-ranked by FIBA at the moment, at No. 13. The South American giant sports three bruising forwards in Nene, Anderson Varejao and Tiago Splitter, along with creative guard play from Leandro Barbosa, Marcelinho and Alex Garcia. They also have plenty of NBA wherewithal to boot.
Many of the current members of the senior squad, namely Splitter, Raul Neto and Caio Torres, figure to be back for the 2016 Games, when they'll play host to the rest of the world in Rio de Janeiro.
The home-court advantage should help Brazil's chances in the near term, but its biggest advantage derives from its massive population. According to the IBGE, Brazil sported a citizenry of over 192 million people as of July of 2011, making it the most populous nation in South America and the fifth-most on the planet, behind only China, India, the US and Indonesia.
Brazil's sheer numbers, along with its growing economy and ever-rising standard of living, are conducive to an uptick in talent and performance across all sports, basketball included.
And if members of the Selecao continue to succeed in the NBA and on the international basketball stage, then the odds of young, gifted athletes taking to the hardwood in Brazil can only improve.
As with Brazil, China belongs in the conversation of those countries with the ability to loosen America's grasp of the orange in the years to come, simply as a matter of numbers.
Official estimates from the National Bureau of Statistics of China estimated the most populous nation's inhabitants at 1.347 billion back in 2011. To put that in perspective, that's more than four times the current population in the US.
Combine that size with the wild popularity of basketball among its citizenry (thanks in no small part to Yao Ming), and China looks like a hotbed of potential talent that's yet to be fully tapped.
Of course, statistics and collective financial might can't overcome the fact that this year's Olympic team, while among the tallest in the field, would be fortunate to advance out of a group that includes Brazil, Spain, Russia, Australia and Great Britain.
And even that's putting it lightly.
Still, if China's economic rise continues in perpetuity (and the wealth generated therein trickles down to the masses), then the prospects of success in its favorite team sport are bound to follow.
Turkey may not be in the Olympics this time around, but certainly owns a place among those fast-developing nations whose hardwood futures are decidedly bright.
Turkey currently ranks sixth in the world according to FIBA, ahead of the likes of China, Russia, France and Brazil, and came in second at the 2010 FIBA World Championship, which it hosted.
The "12 Giant Men" have sent their fair share of ballers to the NBA over the years as well, with Hedo Turkoglu, Ersan Ilyasova, Omer Asik, Enes Kanter, Semih Erden and now Izzet Turkyilmaz forging their own paths across the Atlantic.
And with a youth system that ranks 10th in the world, a population of approximately 75 million and a robust economy at the gateway between Europe and Asia (not to mention an infusion of American basketball knowledge), Turkey's basketball trajectory is clearly on the rise.
The fact that its domestic clubs have been able to attract American talent, most notably US Olympian Deron Williams, speaks volumes of how far the country has come on the court.
It's only a matter of time until its exports follow suit and make a run at Olympic gold.
Might the biggest threat to US basketball supremacy be its neighbor to the north?
The current FIBA rankings wouldn't suggest so, as Canada sits at 24th in the world. Neither would the nation's absence from the Olympic field.
But there's basketball talent in them thar hills, as Canada's spot at No. 5 in the youth standings suggests. The installation of NBA All-Star Steve Nash as the general manager of the Road Warriors should help to bring some legitimacy to the program.
As should the wealth of talent currently in the pipes. Between the prep (Andrew Wiggins, the Bhullar brothers), collegiate (Anthony Bennett, Khem Birch, Myck Kabongo) and professional ranks (Andrew Nicholson, Tristan Thompson, the Joseph brothers), Canada's stockpile should have the opportunity to shine on the international stage in the years to come.
For now, though, the Canadians can only wait and watch while the rest of the world dukes it out for medals.
And last, but certainly not least, there's America's longest-standing adversary, both on and off the court.
I'm talking, of course, about Russia. If you include its time as the Soviet Union, Russian stands as the only nation other than the US to win Olympic gold on more than one occasion.
Outside of basketball, Russia has a huge population (more than 143 million people), an equally-large economy and an iron-fisted government with a growing desire to showcase its power on the international stage, sports included.
The basketball team is already competing at an Olympic level, having qualified for each of the last two and three of the last four Summer Games. This year's edition isn't likely to challenge Team USA for Olympic gold.
But, with the likes of Denver Nuggets center Timofey Mozgov, Minnesota Timberwolves guard Alexey Shved, NBA ex-pats Sergey Monya and Victor Khryapa, and reigning Euroleague MVP Andrei Kirilenko, Russia has the requisite talent to compete for a medal of some sort.
That would be a giant step forward for Russia, in terms of both achieving prestige in the present and setting itself up for success going forward.