International basketball still can’t challenge the dominance of the USA in the Olympics and that’s the big goal of a new generation of international stars
By Aris Barkas at eurohoops.net / firstname.lastname@example.org
Pau Gasol and Luis Scola have not officially retired from basketball (yet), however, both of them said goodbye to their national teams and couldn’t get a medal on their farewell tour.
That’s the peak of the iceberg, as many more notable names like Joakim Noah, Felipe Reyes, Vassilis Spanoulis, Nikos Zisis, Fernando San Emeterio, Omri Casspi, Stratos Perperoglou, Thabo Sefolosha, Novica Velickovic, and Giannis Bourousis called it a day this summer. Most of them were already out of their national teams – even if an 11th-hour injury never made the return of Spanoulis to the national team a reality – but they are all parts of the international generation that were the first to really challenge and get wins over the USA professionals on the international level.
While the USA remains the leading basketball nation in every aspect, their god-like status from the 90s is long gone. Are they beatable? For sure. However, this usually happens on the FIBA World Cup, a major tournament that the top US NBA players are unexplicably snobbing.
The Olympic games appeal is still much higher among the players, something that must change for basketball’s good but that’s a different story.
The point is that the generation that paved the path towards being competitive against the US and occasionally beating them, is giving their place to an exciting era of European basketball stars, which include the current champion and Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, the season MVP Nikola Jokic and of course boy-wonder Nikola Jokic.
With the FIBA rules still being a riddle for many US players and the international game physicality surprising them, the goal of dethroning the USA regularly and creating programs that can go head-to-head with the US best is the next step.
Spain’s golden generation almost did it and Argentina back in 2004 managed to get gold in a tournament that also heralded a new era. The Athens Games created the need for the US to totally change their approach to their national team and enter for good their post-Dream Team years under Jerry Colangelo who is also retiring this summer, giving the reins of the USA national team program to the new managing director Grant Hill.
As the US themselves evolve and totally understand that at this point they must have their top players on the court if they want to win (or else a 2019 FIBA World Cup result is more than possible) the rest of the world must find ways to build teams around their NBA stars, the way that Spain and France do with success, and use the FIBA tournaments the way are ment to be used.
They are the ultimate platform for basketball not only to showcase their best – and the limit of 12 spots in the Olympics is not ideal for that – but also the tool for the whole basketball world to progress and reach the gold standard of the USA.