Team U.S.A. has a long record of putting together unbeatable squads and winning in basketball. After they pulled off a disappointing 7th place in the FIBA World Cup this year in China, the undisputed reign of America may be coming to an end, as “Team World” is clearly on the rise.
Problems began for team U.S.A. when numerous players left or did not attend the month-and-a-half long training camp that was held for the players to practice together immediately before the actual tournament. This included players who were meant to have leadership and mentor ship roles for the younger team members. Many of the big names, such as LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard and James Harden, did not see the value of competing in the World Cup, but rather left the team entirely. The one superstar that chose to stay was the Boston Celtics’ Kemba Walker, who only just signed with Boston during this off-season. He was left to lead the team of youngsters with little experience playing together. The coach, Gregg Popovich, was forced to start young players on the international stage. Although the remaining players performed well during training, nobody stood out during the actual tournament.
Many basketball legends and former players on team U.S.A rosters were not too happy when witnessing this year’s result in China. “It’s to the point now where us in the U.S are going to win some, we’re going to lose some. And that’s just how it goes,” Kobe Bryant commented.
This year’s performance was a fall from grace for those who remember the original “Dream Team” and the era of US dominance it ushered in. They were the first American Olympic team to feature active professional players from the NBA. Many sports analysts described the squad as the greatest sports team ever assembled. This team included some of the all-time greats such as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Charles Barkley. The Dream Team dominated in the 1992 Summer Olympics held in Barcelona, defeating their opponents by an average of 44 points.
Before the 1992 games, team U.S.A. only fielded college players, as professional players were prohibited by FIBA rules. At the 1988 games, when team U.S.A. settled for a bronze medal losing to the Soviets. By the 1992 games this rule was changed resulting in NBA players being able to play for their country.
Now that team U.S.A has fallen off the international stage, other teams are getting there chance at winning the gold medal. These include teams like Spain who won this year’s World Cup, France who were named a top two team in their region and Australia, the team that snapped U.S.A.’s winning streak. These teams plus more are becoming closer and closer in overtaking U.S. in power rankings.
International players are making up increasingly significant portions of team rosters. The NBA announced that 108 international players were on the opening night rosters for the 2018-19 season. That also marked the fifth consecutive season that opening night rosters featured at least 100 international players, and that all 30 teams have at least one international. For example, the NBA champions, Toronto Raptors, have six international players on their current roster.
As the NBA teams are recruiting more players from overseas to fill up their rosters. The EuroLeague is becoming a hot destination for young athletes wanting to start and pursue their careers in basketball. ESPN ranks the EuroLeague as the next best league besides the NBA. Luka Doncic, rookie of the year for the 2018-19 season was drafted third overall from the EuroLeague. Other popular players that came from the EuroLeague include the Gasol brothers, Tony Parker, Dirk Nowitzki, and more recently Nikola Jokic and Rudy Gobert. Dirk Nowfitzki ended his career an MVP and NBA champion. Tony Parker went on to win four NBA championships and the Gasol brothers have been some of the most dominant centers in the league. This year, the league’s MVP was Giannis Antetokounmpo from Greece and the back to back defensive player was Rudy Gobert from France.
As NBA teams continue to grow with international players filling up their rosters, the leagues from Europe, Asia, and elsewhere may start to become a better pathway for players to get into the NBA than the traditional route of playing for an American college. These overseas leagues are already said to be the second best option at the moment, surpassing the NBA’s G-League and many other leagues in North America. Many young athletes that do not want to go to college and start their career early play in these leagues.
Team U.S.A. no doubt hopes they can expand their roster with enough superstars to reclaim their position in the next major tournament, winning gold and dominating teams. But if the rest of the world keeps up their progress, Americans may continue to find challenges on the international stage.