LONDON — With the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics still hours away and the torch relay making its way through the streets of this grand old city, there is still time for the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team to take one last breath before the competition begins Sunday against France.
They ran through their pre-Olympic exhibition schedule like you might expect the loaded, defending gold medalists would — the 5-0 record and 27-point average margin of victory have to impress even the biggest skeptics.
You can take whatever side you want in the Dream Team vs. This Team debate, and Naismith knows everyone who cares at all about the game has weighed in at one time or another in the past few weeks. The fact remains that this is easily the strongest international contingent of talent a U.S. Olympic team will have to face.
There are six other current or former NBA All-Stars in the competition here — Spain boasts two (Pau and Marc Gasol), with Argentina (Manu Ginobili), France (Tony Parker) and Russia (Andrei Kirilenko) each boasting one of their own.
Twenty years ago, the Dream Team faced just five active NBA players on their way to gold (eight other players in that competition had played or would go on to play in the NBA).
The debate will have to wait anyway, since the current team has to first claim a gold of their own. And they’ll be tested by teams like Spain, Argentina, Russia and Brazil, all of which possess more frontcourt size than the U.S. Team has.
No team, though, can go down the bench and find NBA All-Stars nine-deep; Tyson Chandler is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, James Harden is the reigning Sixth Man of the Year and the 12th man, Anthony Davis, was the No. 1 overall pick in last month’s Draft.
The other decided advantage this current team has over its predecessors is a chemistry and cohesion born out of USA Basketball’s structure since Jerry Colangelo took over as managing director of the program and Mike Krzyzewski assumed the coaching mantle after a dismal showing in the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony are making their third straight appearances in the Olympics and five players on this team are shooting for their second straight gold medal. The talk of playing together again in London began immediately after they won gold in Beijing four years ago. Five others are trying to find a match for their gold medals won at the World Championship in Turkey in 2010.
“These are guys I talk to just about every day,” Chris Paul told reporters in Barcelona after the U.S. whipped Spain in their final exhibition game Tuesday. “I knew ‘Bron wanted to do it. D-Wade wanted to do it, but his injury set him back. I knew ‘Melo was in, so we’ve got one of those things where regardless what anybody says, once one or two of us commit to something, we’re all in.”
That’s easier said than done when four of the five holdovers from the Beijing team (James, Anthony, Paul and Deron Williams) have changed addresses in the NBA since they were last together (only Kobe Bryant remains with the same NBA team).
But the opportunity for one last ride together, particularly as the 20-year anniversary of the original Dream Team is upon us, seems like a perfect way for this group that helped transform USA Basketball’s culture to go out.
“I knew I wanted to play again in 2012,” Paul said. “When I found it was London, all right, just let me know when, Coach.”