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The 1992 Olympics in Barcelona was the first time that NBA players were allowed to play in Olympic competition. Before it would be college players representing USA Basketball against the professional players from another country. The Dream Team was assembled with the best that the NBA had to offer and they dominated the competition. As the years went on the other countries became stronger and the desire for top NBA players to play during the off seasons decreased. With the 2021 Olympics upon us I’m going through the best USA teams from the World Championships and Olympics from 1992-2016 so the current team is not included.
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13. 1998 World Championship
This one should have an asterisk as due to a lockout active NBA players did not participate. Future All-Star Brad Miller was there as a college player along with Trajon Langdon from Duke. Rudy Tomjanovich was the coach and was able to lead the team to a 3rd place finish.
12. 2002 World Championship
This was the first time that a USA Basketball team with NBA players did not medal. This was particularly brutal considering that the games were held in Indianapolis, Indiana. I remember going to an exhibition game this team played against Germany and being incredibly underwhelmed. George Karl coached the team and the roster was a mish mash of solid NBA players, but no real superstars on the squad. The team lost in the quarterfinals of the tournament and ended the mythology that a team USA with NBA players could not be beaten.
11. 2004 Olympic Team
After not medaling at the 2002 World Championships you would thing team USA would be hungry to win it all, but you would be wrong. Led by Captains Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson this team has a good roster on paper. The lack of 3 point shooting (Richard Jefferson was their best % 3PT shooter during the NBA season) and coach Larry Brown’s refusal to play the rookie players (LeBron, D Wade and Melo) were big factors in to their Bronze medal finish.
10. 2006 World Championship
After the Bronze medal finish USA Basketball rethought things and brought in Mike Krzyzewski with the goal to build a program with continuity. The team came in third, but it set the foundation for the next decade of the program. LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony led the way. Since this was a world championship it lacked the star power that the Olympic team would have in 2008…
9. 2010 World Championship
After 2008 team USA kept their momentum in 2010 by winning the World Championship. Though it was labeled the “B Team” it featured a lot of promising young players (6 were 22 or younger). Kevin Durant led the way for team USA and was the only player to average double digit points (22.8 ppg). The team also had Stephen Curry, Kevin Love and Russel Westbrook putting them in the team USA fold.
8. 2014 World Championship
Though Kevin Durant was not on the team they still built a solid roster. James Harden led the way in scoring, Klay Thompson was second in scoring off the bench. Interesting layout with Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried in the front court and the backcourt of Kyrie, Steph and Harden. Not as much depth as some of the teams ranked ahead but definitely a starting line up that could cause a lot of trouble.
7. 2016 Olympics
This was the final Olympics with Coach K at the helm. Carmelo Anthony was the veteran leader of the team getting 12 points a game and earned his third gold medal. With his bronze from 2004 Melo’s 4 medals makes him one of the most prolific players in the history of the program. KD again led the way as the leading scorer and big contributions from Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson and Paul George.
6. 2000 Olympic
This was a team that I was much more excited about at the time, but looking back on it there is not the star power to make it an immortal team. This Olympics did feature one of the greatest highlights of all time with Vince Carter dunking over 7’2 French Center Frédéric Weis. Rudy Tomjanovich was coaching and it featured some future hall of famers Jason Kidd, Gary Payton, Alonzo Mourning, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. They had a 2 point game in the semi-final game against Lithuania which was the closest game a USA team with all NBA players had faced.
5. 1994 World Championship
The infamous Dream Team 2… Where to begin, after the success of the 1992 Olympic Team it can be shocking to see some of the contrast of players that made the 1994 team. The team comprised of Derrick Coleman, Joe Dumars, Kevin Johnson, Larry Johnson, Shawn Kemp, Dan Majerle, Reggie Miller, Alonzo Mourning, Shaquille O’Neal, Mark Price, Steve Smith and Dominique Wilkins also had Isiah Thomas as a member of the team though he was unable to play. This team didn’t have the all-timers of the original, but did feature some of the young stars of the time. They were easily able to still capture the gold medal and since the games were in Toronto, Canada I was lucky enough to be able to attend!
4. 1996 Olympic
This would be the last USA Basketball to have the Dream Team moniker. Dream Team 3 as it was known did feature a mix of some members of the 1992 team with a few carry overs from 1994 and some other NBA stars. John Stockton, Karl Malone, David Robinson, Charles Barkley and Scottie were back in uniform. Shaquille O’Neal and Reggie Miller were the carry overs from 1994. Rounding out the roster were some young stars in Grant Hill and Anfernee Hardaway, some vets in Gary Payton and Mitch Richmond and new US citizen Hakeem Olajuwon. This was one of the last teams to be able to hit cruise control on their way to a Gold Medal.
3. 2008 Olympic
After the struggles since 2002 this newly constructed team was labeled the “Redeem Team”. Coach K was leading the charge and they were finally able to get Kobe Bryant to commit and captain the squad. Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Jason Kidd, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh headlined. Carlos Boozer, Michael Redd, Deron Williams and Tayshaun Prince filled out the roster. They were able to win gold over a very talented Spain team. It did a lot to bring excitement back to USA Basketball and Nike’s sponsorship of the team. All players were Nike (D Wade was Converse which Nike owned) except for Dwight Howard (Adidas)so in the team photo Coach K is standing right in front of Dwight Howard covering his shoes.
2. 2012 Olympic
The reason I give the nod to 2012 is the fact that the core built from 2008 adds Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and a very young Anthony Davis. Kobe, LeBron and KD all starting in the same line-up is insane!
1. 1992 Olympic
Not very surprising here. Though Magic and Bird were at the end of their respective careers it was just the fact that they were on the court with Michael Jordan was enough to have opponents in awe. Looking at the roster:
David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Larry Bird, Scottie Pippen, Michael Jordan, Clyde Drexler, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Chris Mullin, Charles Barkley and Magic Johnson where all Hall of Fame players (Christian Laettner the college player on the team is the only one not in the HOF). They beat every opponent by 40+ points and helped create the global basketball game we know and love today. My grandparents were lucky to attend The Tournament of the Americas to see them in action. They bought me a jersey of my favorite player (Magic Johnson) that I still have to this day!
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