The success of the American squad at this year’s FIBA World Championships has already prompted obviously premature comparisons to the original Dream Team. The U.S. continued their run in Japan with victories over Slovenia (114-95), Italy (94-85), Senegal (103-58), and Australia (113-73) to extend their streak to six straight tournament wins. Italy provided the stiffest competition for the Americans in a contest where Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony continued to reassert himself as one of the better scorers in the game by leading his team with 35 points.
After the game, Anthony addressed his recent spike in productivity. “In the second half, I hit a couple shots,” said Anthony. “I got it going after I got a tip-in from the free-throw line. It really boosted my confidence. I was trying to get one of those the whole tournament ... I knew once my outside shot was going that it would open it up for the inside drive and for my other teammates, also.”
Following the team’s victory against Australia, in which Anthony again paced the team with 20 points, Coach Mike Krzyzewski responded to pundits’ criticism of his suggestion that the U.S. wanted to dominate every quarter they played: “In coming up with a long scheme of what you want to do, you sometimes use short-term goals to get you past the obstacles that were there for other teams,” said Coach K. “It wasn’t necessarily something we thought we were going to be able to do — as a staff — but, just like I might tell my team early in the season that they needed to run sprints at a certain time, and I knew they weren’t going to make it, but maybe they would. It would get them to be closer to their potential. So it was a means to an end … The domination and everything, that is just something to get us to another point. And, it did. We worked hard.”
While Team USA’s on-the-court dominance has been a pleasant surprise, considering their still-lingering collapse in Athens, it’s far too early to call them Dream Team 4. Comparing them to the original Dream Team is an even more futile exercise. Despite their recent successes, Dwayne Wade is far from Michael Jordan, LeBron James is years away from being Magic Johnson, and even Larry Bird with a bad back is a better overall player than Carmelo Anthony. At first glance, Dream Team 3 provides a fairer comparison — until you match up Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, and David Robinson against Brad Miller, Dwight Howard, Elton Brand, and Chris Bosh.
There are various distinctions between these two generations of players, including their ages, the level of competition faced by each, and enthusiasm. Most of the original Dream Teamers were already in or slightly past the prime of their careers, while most of today’s players have barely reached it. The foreign competition today is far more evenly matched, and many international teams feature players who are already on NBA rosters — which helps to neutralize the NBA mystique. Lastly, many of the premier American ballers in the league, like Shaq, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, and Jermaine O’Neal, quit international competition; some had little interest in representing the United States in the first place.
This incarnation of Team USA can take comfort in the fact that they would have likely wiped the floor with Dream Team 2, which included players like Derrick Coleman, Shawn Kemp, and Dan Majerle. As they prepare to face Germany and Dirk Nowitzki on Wednesday in the medal-round quarterfinals it’s evident that the recent past and the legacy of USA basketball is on their minds. “What happened in 2004 motivates us,” said Carmelo Anthony following the win over Australia. “We want to go out there and prove everybody wrong. We just want to play basketball the way we know how to play.”