Since the restriction limiting professional players was lifted before the 1992 Barcelona games the United States, which was already a major force in international men’s basketball, got even better—much better.
After taking bronze in 1988, following their golds in ’84 and ’76 the original Dream Team arrived in Barcelona as rock stars and throttled the competition. Since then USA Basketball has rolled out five more teams filled with NBA stars with similar results—save for the 2004 team.
Here is one writer’s ranking of those six teams, taking into account how the rest of the world has caught up since then in addition to how they fared in those games.
6. The 2004 Team; Placed: Bronze. Head Coach: Larry Brown. Average score was USA 88, Opponents 84. Roster: Carmelo Anthony (SF), Carlos Boozer (PF), Tim Duncan (PF), Allen Iverson (PG), LeBron James (SF), Richard Jefferson (SF), Stephon Marbury (PG), Shawn Marion (SF), Lamar Odom (PF), Emeka Okafor (PF), Amare Stoudemire (PF), and Dwyane Wade (SG). After the U.S. team placed an unfathomable sixth-place at the 2002 World Championships, which were held in the United States no less, an almost full turnover of the roster (only Shawn Marion was back) was unable to completely reverse the trend in 2004. The youthful U.S. squad, coached by the legendary Larry Brown lost their first ever Olympic games, three in total, with professionals on the roster. Most embarrassing was a 93–74 loss to Puerto Rico to start things off in a game that was never close. With six of the 12 U.S. players being 22 or younger the team was heavily reliant on veterans Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson, and Stephon Marbury. Notably absent from the roster were NBA stars Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Kidd for various reasons.
5. The 2000 Team; Placed: Gold. Head Coach: Rudy Tomjanovich. Average score was USA 95, Opponents 73. Roster: Shareef Abdur-Rahim (PF), Ray Allen (SG), Vin Baker (PF), Vince Carter (SF), Kevin Garnett (PF), Tim Hardaway (PG), Allan Houston (SG), Jason Kidd (PG), Antonio McDyess (PF), Alonzo Mourning (C), Gary Payton (PG), and Steve Smith (SG). Though they placed gold, this was where the wheels started coming off. U.S. teams were accustomed to dominating the sport; the rest of the world was suddenly catching up. International selections were all of a sudden being made in the NBA Draft and no longer could the U.S. just show up, pressure the guards into easy turnovers and win. Four U.S. wins were by 12 points or less including a two-point squeaker against Lithuania in the semifinals where the team rallied in the last 90 seconds and watched a Lithuanian desperation three-pointer fall short as time ran out. Much like the 2004 team, stars like Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal were absent from the squad.
4. The 1996 Team; Placed: Gold. Head Coach: Lenny Wilkens. Average score was 102–70. Roster: Charles Barkley (SF), Anfernee Hardaway (SG), Grant Hill (SF), Karl Malone (PF), Reggie Miller (SG), Hakeem Olajuwon (C), Shaquille O’Neal (C), Gary Payton (PG), Scottie Pippen (SF), Mitch Richmond (SG), David Robinson (C), and John Stockton (PG). Maybe the most difficult to rank of all these teams, the second team romped through most of the tournament, but was without the Magic/Bird/Jordan megastar trio that set the first team apart. The title game against Yugoslavia was actually a close battle as the U.S. was clinging to a one-point lead with just over 14 minutes remaining before running away with it at the end. Still, no team was within 20 points of the U.S. at the end of any game as the world was still well behind the United States in terms of development. Roster-wise, despite Jordan’s absence this was the only U.S. squad that had three dominant centers and it was the only time Shaq was on the team. Agewise, only three players under the age of 28 (Hardaway, Hill, and Shaq) were on the team.
3. The 2012 Team; Placed: TBD. Head Coach: Mike Krzyzewski. Average score is 118–80. Roster: Carmelo Anthony (SF), Kobe Bryant (SG), Tyson Chandler (C), Anthony Davis (PF), Kevin Durant (SF), James Harden (SG), Andre Iguodala (SF), LeBron James (SF), Kevin Love (PF), Chris Paul (PG), Russell Westbrook (SG), and Deron Williams (PG). This year’s team, save for the five-point win over Lithuania has been very good (see the 156-point game against Nigeria) but they haven’t played their toughest match yet. Notably absent from the roster is the best center in the world, Dwight Howard (injured) as well as quite possibly the best power forward as well in Blake Griffin (also injured). To beat Spain who boast the best post-player in the tournament in Pau Gasol along with his brother Marc Gasol, will be no easy task for the Americans who’ve already seen their lone center, Tyson Chandler pick up quick fouls thus far. Despite the maturation of talented forwards LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony this team is slightly behind the 2008 “Redeem Team” precisely because of its lack of post-players.
2. The 2008 Team; Placed: Gold. Head Coach: Mike Krzyzewski. Average score was 106–78. Roster: Carmelo Anthony (SF), Carlos Boozer (PF), Chris Bosh (PF), Kobe Bryant (SG), Dwight Howard (C), LeBron James (SF), Jason Kidd (PG), Chris Paul (PG), Tyshaun Prince (SF), Michael Redd (SG), Dwayne Wade (SG), and Deron Williams (PG). The “Redeem Team” was a welcome sight for most fans of USA Basketball. A greater emphasis was placed on selecting team players (see Tayshaun Prince) who also play defense as opposed to assembling the highest-scorers in the league and wondering why they weren’t winning. Kobe Bryant also made his first appearance in the Olympics and was flanked by talented youngsters like LeBron, Wade, and Carmelo who were already making their second Olympic appearance and had a bad taste in their mouth from the first one. Having a three-year commitment from the players and coaches (a first since NBA players were introduced) the team meshed well and made it to the title game unscathed before holding on for an 11-point win over Spain, their closest game of the tournament.
1. The 1992 Team; Placed: Gold. Head Coach: Chuck Daly. Average score was 117–73. Roster: Charles Barkley (SF), Larry Bird (SF), Clyde Drexler (SG), Patrick Ewing (C), Magic Johnson (PG), Michael Jordan (SG), Christian Laettner (PF), Karl Malone (PF), Chris Mullin (SF), Scottie Pippen (SF), David Robinson (C), and John Stockton (PG). With the exception of the collegian Laettner, this was the greatest collection ever on a team. The only factor that works against them is their age. Though there were some big stars on this squad the trio of Magic/Bird/Jordan makes it the best ever but only the 29-year old Jordan, who had won three of his five MVPs and two of his six titles by this time, was still in his ferocious prime. Three-time MVP Magic Johnson, though only 32 at the time, had been retired for a year after announcing his HIV-positive status. Larry Bird, another three-time MVP, was 35 and had just played his final season after back problems had limited his mobility. Still they were incredibly dominant and were never challenged in any game, even winning the title game 117–85 over Croatia. “You will see a team of professionals in the Olympics again,” said USA coach Chuck Daly, according to USABasketball.com. “But I don’t think you’ll see another team quite like this. This was a majestic team.”The Epoch Times publishes in 35 countries and in 19 languages. Subscribe to our e-newsletter.