Team USA Basketball: Exploring The “What If” Dream Teams Of Yesteryear

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As Team USA Basketball begins to defend its Gold Medal in the 2016 Olympics, we go down the rabbit hole of the Dream Teams of yesteryear

In 1991, FIBA granted professional basketball players permission to compete in international competition after years of resistance. What followed was the greatest conglomeration of talent in sports history.

The team was dubbed the “Dream Team”, consisting of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen, Karl Malone, John Stockton, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Clyde Drexler, Chris Mullins and Christian Laettner – three top 10 players of all time, seven other top 50 players, plus Mullins and Laettner.

Sorry Zeke and Shaq, but that’s absolutely unreal.

Needless to say, the ‘92 Team USA Basketball Olympic squad dominated. Dunking, shooting, passing, and gliding their way to the easiest championship in sports history.

However, in the competitions to follow, the Olympic team became increasingly less vogue. The ‘96 team was superb, and the 2000 team incredibly fun to watch, but the fun stopped in 2004.

Having three rookies, Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson, and a handful of players I wouldn’t even let near the FIBA world cup roster, probably didn’t help. The United States lost a record three games, and only earned a Bronze medal. Not Gold. Not even Silver. No. The U.S Men’s team comprised of the NBA’s “brightest” only won a Bronze medal.

The United States responded with a Renaissance of sorts. The ‘08 team was aptly dubbed the “Redeem Team”, and the collection of stars didn’t disappoint. LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Jason Kidd, Chris Bosh, and a host of other players led by Duke’s very own, Mike Krzyzewski.

Finally the Dream Team had their true successor, and the Redeem Team took home the Gold in glorious fashion. The 2012 team followed in the ‘08 team’s winning ways, with returning stars like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul. While adding stars like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden.

Now we’re left with the ‘16 team.

Sadly, stars like LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, or Dwyane Wade won’t be returning. Newly anointed and transcendent-offensive-force Stephen Curry won’t be joining the team, either. And, of course, Kobe has since suffered catastrophic injury after another, and now retired (thank you Mamba).

So…what are we left with?

Kevin Durant, two of his new teammates (sorry Russ), Cleveland’s second-in-command Kyrie Irving, and a handful of other All-NBA caliber stars. The team is by-no-means bad compared to the competition, but in comparison to the teams of yesteryear it’s a little disappointing.

What is really disappointing is the great talent pool we have now. Three viable point guards (Steph, Russ, CP3), three viable options at the off-guard (Harden, Klay, Butler), several small forwards (Bron, KD, Melo, PG-13), a few power forwards (AD, Blake, Draymond), and serviceable big men (Cousins, DeAndre).

A talent pool that could quite frankly compare to the ‘92 Bulls. Sure you wouldn’t have the interior defense to stop the likes of Robinson and Ewing, but just think of that back court and your forwards. You could have LeBron play point guard, with Steph and Klay playing off the ball, with AD and DeAndre taking up space in the paint.

Stretch the floor with lights-out-shooters, and run all over the bigs. We could even see MJ take turns trying to guard Steph, KD and LeBron. It would be glorious right?

Now, imagine a world where the Hawks refuse to trade the draft rights to Bill Russell, and he never enters the NBA. Chamberlain goes on to absolutely dominate the league. Bill Walton is never injured, and eventually joins the Celtics with Larry Bird (a personal dream of mine).

Shaq doesn’t leave Orlando…Okay maybe that’s a little insane, but you get the point. Basketball’s version of the Twilight Zone, where in this scenario, professionals were allowed to compete in international competition as early as 1968. What would the league’s talent pool look like as a result?

Let’s find out.

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