There is something about embarrassment that drives the motivation of men with character. The memory of humiliation burns in their souls and drives them to do whatever it takes to seek salvation from discomfit.
The USA Basketball Team was pretty dominant most of last century when even college players was enough to be the best in the world. But when Team USA lost in the 1988 Olympics, a whole nation got indignant and clamored for the country to send their best, which were the NBA superstars. So the “Dream Team” was created for the 1992 Olympics with Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird leading the way. Almost everyone on the team was an eventual Hall of Famer. They blew out every team they played in Barcelona on their way to a gold medal. Mission accomplished. Redemption for Team USA.
For the next decade, the rest of the world slowly got more exposure and although Team USA was still sending NBA players, some Amercian stars started to give excuses for not committing to the cause.
We started to see the emergence of non Americans in the NBA as all stars. Names like Dirk Nowitski, Yao Ming, Pau Gasol, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker started to turn some heads after the turn of the century. Even non allstars like Andrei Kirilenko, Leandro Barbosa, and Andrew Bogut started making an impact in the league.
The red flags started in 2002. While the subsequent teams in the 1996 (Atlanta) and 2000 (Sydney) Olympics won gold, the gap was slowly being closed from 1992. While playing in front of their home crowd in Indianapolis at the 2002 World Basketball Championships, the USA team finished a dismal 6th. The country who invented basketball was demolished in their backyard. NBA talent alone was not enough anymore. The rest of the world made a statement that basketball was a team sport and you can overcome athletic ability with beautiful, harmonious team play.
So while the American players were blurting out more excuses for not joining the 2004 Athens Olympic team like security and the need for off season rest, the other countries used the biggest sporting event in the world to show the world that they were the best, and that playing for their country was still a top priority. Led by then teenager Lebron James, Team USA barely came home with the bronze medal. “Lebronze” became the chant as the team even lost to Lithuania in the first round and eventually got eliminated from contention by gold medal winner Argentina.
After the Athens debacle, Gerry Colangelo, the Phoenix Suns GM volunteered to rebuild Team USA using his knowledge of the international game. He knew that Americans still had the best talent but had to change a lot in the attitude, mindset and system being used to build the team. He needed commitment, not excuses. He spoke with each player he recruited individually and made sure that those that were chosen understood what it was going to take. He chose Mike Krzyzewski, the best college coach in the last 25 years to lead the team back to glory.
The first test was the World Basketball Championships in 2006 held in Japan. After cruising through the first phase, they were shocked by Greece in the semi finals. That last loss hurt like a dagger through the heart. It hurt enough to get the same kind of indignation when the Soviet Union shattered Team USA’s invincibility back in 1988. The anger and fury can be felt with how each player has committed himself to the cause. You know the dedication is there when the best offensive player in the world in Kobe Bryant commits to being the defensive stopper of the team.
If the commitment is not enough, there are other reasons to think that the gold will be back in America’s hands in Beijing. This team will have had about 30 games together which creates the familiarity necessary for team chemistry. Dwayne Wade says “it’s a total 180 since the team has been together 3 years compared to 3 weeks in 2004.” The same concept is true with their adversaries. Many of the opponents’ players now play in the NBA so individually, there are now very little surprises. Each player’s style and tendencies should be more familiar now that they play at least 82 games in the NBA.
There are still concerns about the size inside but overall, this is the most physically and mentally prepared team since 1992. The combination of talent, commitment, chemistry, and resolve are indeed enough for the “Redeem Team” to live up to its name.