The 2012 Dream Team is doing something that was previously unthinkable: They're making me miss the 2004 incarnation of Team USA.
The 2004 team was one of the most unlikeable and poorly constructed teams in American Olympic history. After the 2000 squad blew away their opponents, facing only one tough challenge from Lithuania in the semifinal, the organizers of Team USA invited an entirely new roster to the Athens Olympics.
Though the team had a few members to be proud of, namely captain Tim Duncan, and was loaded with future NBA superstars (LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade), the team's performance was marred by selfish play, poor teamwork and stunning immaturity.
The team's troubles were best exemplified by Stephon Marbury, whose ball-hogging and poor shot selection were never on better display than they were in Athens.
The 2012 team has none of these problems. Each of the players demonstrates a team-first attitude, despite the fact that there are more superstars on this squad than on any since the original Dream Team in 1992. The baby-faced trio of James, Anthony and Durant have matured into three of the best and smartest players in professional basketball, and they are joined by a mix of future Hall of Famers and some of the best and most mature youngsters in the league. Even the team's token rookie, Anthony Davis, has been a contributor.
Yet despite everything the team has going for it, their games are almost unwatchable. They blew out Nigeria and Tunisia by a combined score of 266-136, outcomes that surprised no one since they are the two worst teams in Group A. But the U.S. also dominated a talented French team 98-71, despite boasting a roster that includes Tony Parker and Ronny Turiaf.
Defenders might argue that two of the games started out close, only to see Team USA turn on the gas in the second halves of the games. The reason the games were close, however, was a combination of sluggish early play from Team USA and the fact that most of the teams have a few NBA-caliber players who start the games.
Once the team had to start putting bench players on the floor, they were decimated by USA's second unit, led by Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love. The fact is that none of the teams that have faced Team USA so far had a prayer of keeping up with them.
There is no doubt that it is thrilling for basketball fans to watch Chris Paul choose whether to pass the ball to Kobe Bryant, LeBron James or Kevin Durant. The level of play exhibited by Team USA is truly astonishing, and there has not been a more talented basketball team at any time in the past two decades. But after only a few minutes into each game, the excitement generated by the talent is lost for want of actual competition.
The three games played so far have become snoozefests—if you don't believe me, ask Tyson Gay. Team USA has been accused of running up the score, especially in their 83 point win over Nigeria. The truth is that they can't help themselves but win by such margins, even while playing zone defense, benching every starter and slowing down the pace of the game. This team is just too talented and plays too well together, and no one they've played yet has had a chance of keeping up.
The remaining games on Team USA's schedule should be more interesting. Argentina is always a talented opponent, though France beat them by seven points. Spain and Russia are both undefeated through three games of group play, and both teams boast talented rosters.Spain in particular could pose a real challenge to Team USA, and Coach K will need to ensure that his players have not been lulled into a false sense of complacency by the inferior talents of teams like Nigeria and Tunisia.
The 2004 team lost two games in group play—to Puerto Rico and Lithuania—and were beaten by Argentina in the semifinals. No American basketball fan wants to return to those days, yet at least there was some excitement in the game and question as to the eventual outcome.
The rest of the world is getting better at basketball every year, and eventually the United States will not be able to dispatch their opponents with ease. But until that day comes, or at least until they face the Spanish team, watching Team USA play is about as exciting as watching Tyson Gay sleep.