These Olympics should mark the end of the Dream Team
The gold medal for the most predictable gold medal of the 2012 Olympic Games went to the USA’s men’s basketball team. I think we can do away with that predictability – and I think I have a way to do it.
The 2012 team was pretty handy.
It won all its lead-up games by a huge margin and was too good for Spain in the final, even if the margin was a somewhat slender seven points.
Last month, Kobe Bryant said that in his opinion, his 2012 team would beat the ’92 edition – but then, he would say that. The only man who was a member of both teams, USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski, has been courteously silent on the matter.
You will have noticed that I have avoided assigning the 2012 team the somehwhat lazy ‘Dream Team’ epithet. In my opinion, the original NBA-based team, from the ’92 Olympics, was the one true Dream Team. Ewing, Bird, Jordan, Stockton and Malone, and Magic Johnson.
Need I go on?
But I want to make some changes that would see Team USA work for a medal of whatever colour and, maybe, even undergo a dramatic loss in the pool matches, in the same way as Russia had to bounce back from a loss to the Boomers to take a deserved bronze.
Several pundits have offered the opinion that the way to do this is through eligibility, and install the example used in Olympic football. This would see teams limited to choosing a majority of players who are under 23, plus a select number of over age players.
NBA Commissioner David Stern and the sport’s international body FIBA support this plan, with the added layer of promoting a ‘Super’ tournament (without any such restrictions) separate to the Olympics.
Part of the reason would be that such a tournament would be a lucrative one for whoever owns it, which in this case would be, presumably, the NBA and FIBA.
Several high-profile people in the sport oppose this idea, notably Russia’s American-born head coach, David Blatt. He said recently that the USA’s basketball program, in which the NCAA collegiate system delivers NBA-ready players to the pro draft every year, means that America would have, potentially, an even bigger advantage under that plan than they have now.
Certainly, the form of Anthony Davis in London backs this up theory. The University of Kentucky Wildcat was a late call-up to Team USA and gets to make his NBA debut with New Orleans later this year as an Olympic gold medallist, as well as a multi-millionaire. He is 19.
So, here is the plan: there are no age restrictions, but squads must include no more than six players from any one league.
Team USA is not going to be the only team affected by this. Spain and Brazil each had seven players from their domestic leagues playing in London. Russia had eight from its league and three teams had 11; Tunisia, China and the USA (providing we count Davis as still, technically, a collegiate player).
That may not be fair on the minnows, so maybe the Branagan Plan should be applied only to the top seeds (say, eight or 10 teams) based on recent international rankings.
In a heartbeat, the challenge changes. The USA won its pool games by, mainly, staying close to (or just in front of) its opponents in the first two quarters before, in the third, taking a Kobe or a Carmelo off the bench and letting slip the dogs of war.
Having superstars come off the bench meant that they were much fresher than they would be at the same stage of an NBA game, in which they would have played far more minutes, and they scored accordingly.
Limit the number of marquee players and suddenly, the USA’s coaching staff face the challenge of balancing their stars and not-quite-yet-stars – just like every other team.
It would also give some other American players the opportunity to showcase their wares. There are other leagues in the USA, like the ABA, and foreign domestic leagues are full of American-born players. Compared to the NBA, the NCAA may be full of youngsters, but if the best players can handle March Madness, the Olympics should be a snap.
Basketball changes all the time; the three-point line, the shot clock, the square key. Heck, the NBA changed its own eligibility rules six years ago, to discourage talented kids from following the example of Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Garnett and nominating for the NBA Draft straight from high school.
It has worked, to a degree, so maybe the time has come to extend the thinking to the Olympics.
Team USA would get no more automatic gold medals. And the of the World would get a fighting chance. Okay, those outcomes still may not be foregone conclusions – but in sport, that is the way it is supposed to be.