The Dream Team, the original 1992 Olympic basketball squad, was the right team at the right time.
Nearly every sports fan, including myself, embraced the idea of it. The heavily favored U.S. team, anchored by David Robinson, had faltered in the 1988 games and the Russian team ended up winning the gold.
For those of you who might not be old enough to remember, this was an unacceptable situation. The Cold War was drawing to a close, but to many of us, the Russians were still considered “The Enemy.” We had been bested by our arch-nemesis. Even worse, while the U.S still ruled the basketball world, it was becoming painfully obvious that the gap between us and everyone else was closing.
Geopolitically speaking, the world was a bit different back then and athletic superiority was exceeded in importance only by military might.
So it made sense for the U.S. to assemble its best players—not just NBA All-Stars, but some of the best players in the history of the sport—to give everybody a good whipping and firmly re-establish our place at the top of the basketball food chain.
This year’s Olympic hoops squad (the aptly-named Redeem Team) accomplished its mission, which was twofold:
1. To re-assert USA Basketball’s dominance of the sport; and
2. To repair the boorish image of the American professional basketball player.
Led by Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski, the U.S. team (which boasted a couple of future Hall-of-Famers of its own) got it done. They brought the gold back the States and did it with class. They immersed themselves in the unique culture of the Olympic Games, supporting their female counterparts as well as their fellow American athletes in other sports. They were visible, in a very good way, and they won.
Now that they’ve done that, it’s time to give the Olympics back to the college kids.
Before you respond with a very loud “NO,” hear me out.
I’m not suggesting that we completely turn it over to the collegians. The NCAA talent pool is diminished by the mass exodus of one-and-done players to the pros. I’m suggesting that we alternate between college and pro—collegians in 2012, pros in 2016, and so on.
Yes, the rest of the world is rapidly improving at the game, but a well-assembled team of college players, led by a skilled group of coaches, could be competitive and perhaps even win. It would give our youngest players increased exposure to the international game and it would reduce the risk of injury to our best (and, let’s face it, highest-paid) players. Most owners would embrace that, especially Mark Cuban.
We Americans are very arrogant about our basketball, partially because the sport was invented here (although Dr. Robert Naismith was a Canadian) and partially because we’re a bit arrogant about everything. We want to be the best at it, and we’ve proven that we are. Now it’s time to return to the mythical Olympic spirit of competition and let the college kids play, even if no other country does.
Just think of the bragging rights we’d have if our collegians actually won in London.