Team USA: Last Name Ever, First Name Greatest?

Written for CAVE by Johan Blaze.

Twenty years ago, the world marveled as one of the greatest sports teams ever assembled made history at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. With a roster featuring eleven Hall of Famers, the Dream Team garnered an average-win-margin of 43 points, captured a gold medal and reclaimed American basketball supremacy. In short, it was a sporting spectacle we’re unlikely to see again.

With the 2012 London Games coinciding with the 20th anniversary of the Dream Team, it’s no surprise that significant debate has ensued comparing this year’s squad to that of ’92. Fuel was added to the fire when Kobe Bryant commented that this team’s youth and athleticism would give them the victory over the “older” and “bigger” Dream Team.

As expected, sports writers and armchair critics immediately raised their arms in disbelief. Accusations of blasphemy and doubts regarding Bryant’s sanity soon followed. Dream Teamers Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley openly mocked Bryant’s comments, while ESPN‘s Michael Wilbon noted “there isn’t a single phase of the game where the 2012 team matches up to the Dream Team, which puts today’s team in pretty good company because no other team does either.” Even Barack Obama (probably the only President in U.S. history with a legitimate jump shot) weighed in and gave his nod to the Dream Team.

Needless to say, the general consensus among pundits and bloggers is that the Dream Team (with Michael Jordan at the helm, a significant edge in the post and better overall talent) would wipe the floor with the 2012 team. In all fairness, the Dream Team turned Team USA basketball into a sports institution that has come to signify domination at the Summer Olympics. They set the standard by which all Team USA incarnations will be measured. This speaks to our lofty expectations of the US men’s squad. Anything less than gold is unacceptable.

Perhaps the focus shouldn’t be upon which team is better, but rather upon the special and unique talent making up this year’s roster. While they may not beat the Dream Team, ‘12 Team USA, which also features Lebron James and Kevin Durant no less, is as dynamic and thrilling as any of the previous Team USA incarnations. To discount them because of their perceived inferiority to one of the greatest teams ever assembled is shortsighted.

These guys are no slouches. Kobe, Lebron and company beat all pre-Olympic opponents by an average of 25 points. Meaningless exhibition games you say? In their first two Olympic group games against France and Tunisia Team USA won by an average of 37 points. When you dominate your opponents in this manner, it’s easy to forget the individual games that are mere numbers in the win column.

Indeed, Team USA’s toughest competition will come from the Spanish and Argentinians, but those who think Team USA doesn’t have what it takes to capture gold should take a moment to consider the future HOFs that headline the 2012 team. Bryant will lead the team with his unique drive and intensity that are the hallmarks of all champions. At 33, this is likely his last Olympic outing. James is a wildly talented athletic freak, one we have not seen before in the history of the game. At 27, he’s at an age where players usually peak. Durant is an offensive marvel, a throwback volume scorer that, at 23, is set to be the face of the league for the next decade.

Bryant, James and Durant are arguably the three best players in the world at the moment. They might even be three of the best players the NBA has ever seen. To have all three on the same team? Supplemented by other NBA stars who rank among the best in the world? All playing only for national honour and glory? If you’re a true sports fan, let alone a basketball fan, you will not miss a single game this team plays. After all, we only get to see this kind of dominance once every four years, and to enjoy this level of basketball in the off-season is more than any fan could ask for.

Short of a Canadian national team full of NBA pros, or one that can actually qualify for the Olympic Games, I’m cheering for the Team USA. Even without the proper squad (Derrick Rose, Dwayne Wade and Dwight Howard are all our with injuries), the 2012 team is one of the most athletic and talented we’ve ever seen. They promise to provide many highlights along with the shiny hardware that has become the gold standard – pun unintended – for United States basketball.

C.R.E.A.M. Team ‘12, get the money USA.

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