LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony

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Biggest 180s: USA basketball got a wakeup call in 2004

Sam Cohn
September 03, 2019 - 4:13 pm

Undoubtedly the National Basketball Association is the most competitive basketball league in the world and a large majority of its players come from the United States. Excluding a handful of stars coming from South America, Europe, or Africa, for years, much of the NBA's basketball talent has been home grown. 

The NBA players that represented the United States in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece were an utter disappointment for an otherwise dominant country in the Games. USA racked up 101 total metals including 36 gold that summer.

Head coach Larry Brown’s squad lost on opening night in a 19-point upset to Puerto Rico. They later dropped a 94-90 loss to Lithuania and the semifinal game of the tournament gave Argentina a chance at gold after an 89-81 win over the Americans. 

That 2004 12-man squad’s average age was just 23.5 with four guys 21 or younger. LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwayne Wade all played for that ‘04 team but none of them averaged more than eight points per game or made major impacts. Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson were named captains of the team but their biggest help came from Shawn Marion, Stephon Marbury, and Lamar Odom. That group just doesn’t add up to a gold medal team for a country that has so much history and dominance in international play.

Stephon Marbury told Complex that the ‘04 Olympic Games were the “worst 38 days” of his life. 

Evidently, the 2004 Olympics were a disappointment, a humiliation, and most importantly a wakeup call for the USA Basketball program.

Four years later, the 2008 USA basketball team earned the nickname ‘the redeem team.’

With Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard joining the likes of Wade, James, and Anthony, the team had more experience and talent with a bit of a sickening taste left in their mouths from 2004. Chris Bosh, Chris Paul, and Jason Kidd rounded out the major stars.

USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo was brought in to oversee the team after the ‘04 disappointment and flipped the program on its back.  He brought in Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski as the new Team USA head coach and put much more emphasis on the idea of building a ‘program'.

Team USA won all eight of their games en route to bringing home the gold medal with the smallest margin of victory coming in the gold medal game against Spain.

The stars of that team etched their names in history that year. They obliterated each team that got in their way. When Spain gave them a bit of trouble in the final minutes of the Final, Bryant memorably put the team on his back with a four point play that gave the good guys all the momentum they needed to close out the game. 

His work ethic and performance in the Olympics is largely credited for the development of Team USA basketball in the post-2004 era. 

Most importantly the gold medal being returned to the US was leverage for future stars to want to represent their country. The 2008 USA basketball team did a complete 180-degree turn from four years prior that restored the Americans to international dominance.


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