"This team is not big enough. They can't compete with experienced international teams. They have no half-court offense."
All of these things were said about the "Redeem Team," the 2008 USA Men's Basketball team—yet when it was all said and done, the gold medals were hung around their necks and the American national anthem was played once more.
Since the Sydney Olympics in 2000, the USA has not won an international basketball tournament. In that time, the United States Basketball has experienced its lowest points in history.
In the 2004 Olympic Games, a team led by Allen Iverson and Tim Duncan was stunned by Argentina in the semifinals and walked away with the bronze. Then in 2005, the U.S. placed fourth in the FIBA Americas championships. It was clear that the world had not only caught the USA, but passed them, as far as the way of the team game and not talent alone. Change was needed—and fast.
The Americans no doubt had their backs against the wall. Not only had the USA not won a tournament in six years, but there was a very real possibility that the United States would even not have a team in the Beijing Olympics, as they needed to advance to the finals of the FIBA Americas Championships to even qualify.
The U.S. abandoned the old formula of building a team by getting some All-Stars together three weeks before a tournament. Micheal Colangelo, the director of USA Basketball, hired Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who brought with him a very experienced coaching staff that included new New York Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni.
Along with the change at head coach the entire team was given a major overhaul with only four players (James, Wade, Boozer, and Anthony) returning from the 2004 squad that won the bronze. Players were asked for a three-year commitment, and responded with enthusiasm and the will to put USA Basketball on top.
It was clear early on that the formula was working, as the Americans cruised through the FIBA Championships and won the gold—along with a spot in the summer games in Beijing.
This new group of players impressed many with their dominance in exhibition games in preparation for the Olympics. The "Redeem Team" was now firing on all cylinders on the road to Beijing.
When the team arrived in Beijing, they played with a fire and determination that had not been seen in a long time for USA Basketball. Led by Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, and a resurgent Dwayne Wade off the bench, the "Redeem Team" looked unbeatable in pool play.
The U.S. dominated China, Angola, Greece, Spain, and Germany, winning by an average of 32 points—including a 32-point rout of defending world champs Spain. and a spanking of Germany by 49. The U.S. entered the medal rounds at 5-0.
Breezing past the Aussies in the quarterfinals behind a 25-point effort from Kobe, the U.S. faced Argentina in the semis. Despite a tough challenge from Argentina, the "Redeem Team" moved onto the gold-medal game against Spain.
Here is where the Americans' resolve was truly tested. LeBron and Kobe both had early foul trouble, and it looked as if Spain had a window of opportunity. But in came Dwayne Wade, who had a massive game with 28 points, and helped to hold off Spain in the first half.
The USA was now just a half away from redemption and the gold medal. Into the second half, Spain played out of their skulls and would not let the U.S. pull away. Every time the U.S. went on a run, the Spaniards had an answer. Rudy Fernandez and Paul Gasol both kept Spain in it the entire game.
But behind clutch shots from Dwayne Wade, Deron Williams, and Kobe Bryant, the "Redeem Team" pulled ahead and won the gold medal, 118-107. The look on all the players' faces said it all.
Watching this team was a thrill for myself and the whole country. Not only did they win, but they did so with class and represented our great country as well as anyone could. This team was not just about a basketball redemption—but the spirit of wearing the colors red, white, and blue. All of the members of the team were seen at other Olympic events cheering on their countrymen—most noteably LeBron and Kobe with their arms in the air when Michael Phelps won his eighth gold medal.
This will not only be a victory for this team but I feel for many teams to come. They have set the bar where it needs to be—and it once again means something to wear the jersey of the USA.
America is proud of what this group of athletes did over there. Tthey most certainly have accomplished what they set out to do—redeem!