The Speed Team: USA Men's Basketball in the Shadow of the 1992 Dream

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The USA's Kevin Durant and France's Mickael Gelabale during the Global Community Cup basketball exhibition game between France and the USA August 15, 2010 at Madison Square Garden in New York.

The induction of the 1992 Dream Team into the Basketball Hall of Fame, and the current USA Men’s basketball’s easy defeat of France turned my eyes to international basketball for the first time since 2008, when the USA men’s team won Olympic gold.

This year’s team bears no resemblance to the 2008 squad, which boasted Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Carmelo Anthony - to name a few. Dubbed the “Redeem Team,” they were a throwback to their 1992 predecessors, the “Dream Team.” The Dream Team included 10 of the 50 greatest players of all time. You remember the roster: Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Chris Mullin, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, John Stockton, David Robinson, Scottie Pippen, Clyde Drexler, and Christian Laettner. This was significant because it was the first time in international play that U.S. pros were allowed to compete - and they utterly dominated.

The Dream Team brought USA back into a position of clear dominance in a game, which began in America. Basketball started in the wilds of Jim Naismith’s fantasy as a way to channel the energy of unruly boys (some argue that they are still unruly). Using a ball and a peach basket, Naismith introduced the game to a YMCA in the city of Springfield Massachusetts, which now hosts the basketball hall of fame. This weekend, the Dream Team was enshrined to its halls.

Sequels to the Dream Team were also successful, but in recent years the USA has faltered in international play. The Redeem Team of 2008 was designed to address that - and they did. The new team is mostly a rag-tag gang of NBA b-stars with tattoos, leaping ability, and birthdays from the 1980’s. They can scarcely remember the Dream Team, much less be expected to play at a similar level. Perhaps they will be fine and play at their OWN level - and that might be good enough to win gold.

The landscape has changed a lot since those halcyon days. No longer is the NBA simply the provenance of continental talent. Now 19 percent of players are from other countries and American players increasingly play overseas. The game is truly a global phenomenon. This weekend’s contest against France was notable as much for the 31 point margin of victory that the USA enjoyed as it was for the French NBA stars, Ronny Turiaf, Joakim Noah, and Tony Parker all sat on the sidelines and watched.

Next up for the USA squad is the World Championships at the end of the month.  I really like them, by the way, I love having Rajon Rondo, Stephen Curry, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, fearless and speedy point guards, playing alongside the veteran Chauncey Billups. The big guys are athletic and solid: Tyson Chandler, Kevin Love, Danny Granger and Lamar Odom will make for a solid lineup. The team will play up-tempo basketball, they will knock down three pointers, will dazzle the crowds, they will fly around, and have fun. Although they may not be the Dream or Redeem team, with talent like Kevin Durant and crew, these young guys might keep the USA in the driver’s seat again at the World Basketball championships coming up August 28 - Sept 12 in Istanbul, Turkey.

I will call them the Speed Team - and may quickness and speed win!