August 12, 2012

Dream Team 2.0: At least the debate can begin

The gold-medal winners try to make a case as best ever.

LONDON -- Let the debate begin.

The U.S. men's basketball team won the gold medal, as expected, by beating Spain 107-100 on Sunday afternoon. Afterward, LeBron James reiterated what Kobe Bryant had said before the Olympics started: This team has an argument that it is the greatest of all time.

"I'm happy I was able to represent my country the right way and do it with such a great team," said James, who scored 19 points Sunday and averaged 13.3 for the tournament. "It's probably one of the best teams, if not the best team, ever assembled."

Bryant touched a nerve with Michael Jordan when he said that this group of NBA All-Stars could beat the 1992 collection of Hall of Famers that formed the original Dream Team.

Magic, Air Jordan, Bird, the Mailman, Sir Charles, etc. or King James, KD, Kobe and crew?

Eleven of the 12 players from the original Dream Team are in the Hall of Fame, with only Christian Laettner left out, and they combined for 23 NBA titles in their day. During the 1992 tournament, they outscored opponents by an average of 43.8 points per game, with their closest contest a 117-85 victory over Croatia in the gold-medal game.

It's hard to argue against them.

That team led to the growth of international basketball. The 1992 Dream Team is the reason the current version needed a thunderous dunk and a 3-pointer from James in the final 2:44 to finally finish off feisty Spain.

No one, though, ever doubted the Americans would win. Not the crowd of 13,514 that included Tony Dungy, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Andrew Young, Queen Sofia of Spain and David Beckham. Not the millions watching on television around the world. Not the American players. Not the Spanish players.

This isn't 2004.

"We came here to try to seize an opportunity, which happens maybe one or at the most a couple of times for a country that is not the United States," Spain's coach, Sergio Scariolo, said. "...We have to give great credit to our opponents. They are a bunch of unbelievable players, full of talent, full of skills."

Out of the ashes of 2004 has risen the newest Dream Team. With even some Americans rooting against them, an arrogant Team USA lost three games in '04 on its way to an embarrassing bronze medal. The team was rebuilt with USA Basketball chief Jerry Colangelo, who was smart enough to hire one of the greatest coaches of all time. Coach Mike Krzyzewski, 65, said again Sunday that this is his last Olympics, and why not? He has done all he can, with a 62-1 record, a world championship and two gold medals in his seven years with Team USA.

In 2008, the so-called Redeem Team defeated its first seven opponents by an average of 30.2 points per game to reach the final, where it beat Spain 118-107.

Now, this year, the U.S. outscored its eight opponents by an average of 32.1 points in averaging 115.5 per game.

It was basketball at its 2012 best.

"I was part of it in '04, and that was the lowest point for the USA team," said James, who also won the NBA title and was the league's MVP this year. "...It was definitely a different attitude toward the game and toward what it meant to really represent your country. I don't think we all understood that. I just think we were putting on the uniform and thought we could just come together in two, three weeks and go out there and win just because we are great individuals.

"It's been a long road for USA Basketball. I'm happy to be in the position where I can say I had something to do with us being back on top, because that's what it's all about."

Bryant distracted Krzyzewski just long enough for James to douse the coach with water as the final seconds ticked off the clock Sunday. It was more great teamwork, which is what got Team USA to the gold-medal stand and in the debate as the greatest team ever assembled.

It will take more of that in the future to keep the Dream Team alive.

Charean Williams


Twitter: @NFLCharean

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