As someone who is a huge NBA fan and also straddles a fine line between patriotic and jingoistic, I can't express how proud and relieved I am to see the US Olympic basketball team restore their rightful place atop the world basketball ladder.
I never really understood how the U.S. team had gotten to the point where a 6th place finish in the 2002 World Championships and bronze medals in the 2004 Olympics and 2006 World Championships was even a possibility. Sure, I understood that the competition abroad had gotten better, that the best players on foreign teams were among some of the best players in the NBA. I even bought into the notion that the competition had played and practiced together for years and years, while the U.S. seemingly just showed up to practice in Las Vegas for a few weeks prior to the start of a tournament.
But still, we continued to throw out a team of 10-12 all-stars every time. Sure there were poor roster and coaching choices (Stephon Marbury?!?! The Disaster that was Larry Brown), but these lackluster performances on the world stage from 02-06 proved that our talent was no longer enough to secure a commanding or even gold-medal performance.
This year's Olympics ended up being the perfect storm for Team USA. Most of the league's elite-level superstars agreed to join the squad for the first time since 1996. The system implemented by Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski brought much needed stability on the court and in personnel. While the original plan calling for a greater focus on role-players proved to be more hype than substance (for the handful of non-stars invited to the original camp in 2006, Tayshaun Prince was the only player on the 2008 team that wasn't a multiple-time all-star), on-court chemistry and overall cohesion provided the U.S. with their most dominant performance since the original Dream Team. It was truly a joy to watch this team play together. (Well as enjoyable as tape-delays and replays-while-knowing-the-outcome allow, but I digress)
Now that America has re-asserted their position as THE basketball power, where does USA Basketball go from here? It is unlikely that all the stars that agreed to play this time around would be willing to sacrifice their summers in 2010, 2011 and 2012 as well. For the trio of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dewayne Wade, these Olympics allowed them to avenge their poor (albeit Brown-hindered) performance in the Athens games. Are any of them really concerned with winning a second gold in 2012? For James and Anthony, espicially, their careers immediately become all about if they can take their NBA teams to the next level, and if not, where they will be playing in a couple of years. Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd, two of the most standout performers within international basketball competition/rules, will likely be too gray to play again in 2012. While the U.S. point guard position should be secure for years to come, can a team led by the Brandon Roys, Al Horfords and Kevin Durants of the NBA stand out against (much less own) these still-improving teams from around the world? Here's to hoping so, but more than likely, these next few international competitions will have us pining for the 2008 squad, much as we did in the years following the 1992 Olympic Games.