Over the past few weeks, ThePostGame has caught you up on the status of both the London hopefuls and the Select Team roster training with them. Before we continue to speculate on who will end up with the privilege of representing the Red, White and Blue this summer, we thought we’d take a journey back into the past. With quite a few great teams having been fortunate enough to represent the U.S. in the Summer Olympics over the past 20 years, it made us curious as to how they stacked up. Here is our rankings of those squads from worst to first.
5) 2004 Athens Team
Coach: Larry Brown
Guards: Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury, Dwyane Wade
Forwards: Carmelo Anthony, Carlos Boozer, LeBron James, Richard Jefferson, Shawn Marion, Lamar Odom, Amar’e Stoudamire
Centers: Tim Duncan, Emeka Okafor
To some it may be no surprise that the group that produced the nightmare finish in Greece sits at the bottom of the list, but it was much closer than one might think. The team was top heavy, headlined by Duncan (closing in on his fifth ring) and Iverson (one of the best pure scorers ever and a Hall of Fame lock) in their primes, but the rest of the roster was either callow or ordinary.
Anthony, James, Stoudamire and Wade weren’t the players we know them as today, while the other youngster, Okafor, has never been much more than solid despite his lofty draft status (and he barely saw the floor during the Olympics). Jefferson and Odom were in their primes but never even saw an All-Star team during their careers.
Boozer and Marion saw a few combined, but definitely were never considered among the best at their positions at any given point. Plus Boozer, at the time of the Olympics, was only 22-years-old himself and hardly an established veteran. Marbury, ever the enigma, was ultra-talented and made a few All-Star teams because of it, but was a selfish gunner who was undeniably difficult to get along with on and off the court.
All this added up to a disappointing bronze medal finish for the U.S. that year, the only time since professionals have represented our country that that has happened. That result, while not the only reason, leaves this team at the bottom of the rankings.
4) 2000 Sydney Team
Coach: Rudy Tomjanovich
Guards: Ray Allen, Vince Carter, Tim Hardaway, Allan Houston, Jason Kidd, Gary Payton, Steve Smith
Forwards: Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Vin Baker, Kevin Garnett, Antonio McDyess
Center: Alonzo Mourning
The 2000 team that brought back the Gold from Australia is probably the most unheralded of the group. Garnett and Kidd, both in their primes at the time, led the team and are both locks for the Hall of Fame. Payton and a then-25-year-old Allen, two players also likely to be enshrined, joined forces with an aging Hardaway (five All-Star appearances) and an emerging Carter to form a very formidable backcourt. Carter produced one of basketball's most memorable moments with his famous dunk over the 7-foot-2 Frederic Weis. "Le dunk de la mort" (The Dunk of Death) was perhaps the moment that launched Vinsanity into full swing.
Smith and Abdur-Rahim each made a lone All-Star team and were very solid pros. Abdur-Rahim might have been a bigger name had he not been stuck on dreadful teams the majority of his career. The rest of the roster is a case of “What might have been."
Mourning, a brutally physical and dominant center, saw his incredible career sidetracked by a serious kidney disease. Houston, whose game wasn’t nearly at the level of Mourning's, still met an early end to his career, too, due to a devastating knee injury. Baker was extremely productive during his NBA career despite having problems with alcohol abuse. His four All-Star appearances might have been double that had the troubled forward kept his life under control off the court.
The fact that this team allowed the aura of invincibility built by the first two "Dream Teams" to fade thanks to several tight games during the tournament almost knocked them to the bottom of the rankings. However, thanks to KG, Kidd and a few other potential Hall of Famers, they brought home the gold and the fourth spot on our rankings.
3) The 2008 Beijing Team
Coach: Mike Krzyzewski
Guards: Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd, Chris Paul, Michael Redd, Dwyane Wade, Deron Williams
Forwards: Carmelo Anthony, Carlos Boozer, Chris Bosh, LeBron James, Tayshaun Prince
Center: Dwight Howard
The "Redeem Team" was an impressive collection of today's stars sent to China with one mission; to bring the Gold back to the U.S. Bryant, the best player in the world at the time, and a 35-year-old Kidd led this group of megastars all in their primes. James wasn't quite yet ready to overtake Bryant for NBA supremacy, but he, Anthony and Wade were a far cry from the inexperienced youngsters that got knocked around in Athens. Paul and Williams, while not on that 2004 team, were starting their battle for the title of the NBA’s best point guard and played a major role for the team.
Bosh, just getting started on his streak of seven straight All-Star appearances joined Boozer, fresh off his first one in a frontcourt anchored by Howard. While Howard's offensive game was still quite raw, he was already the defensive presence in the middle that we know him as four years later. The rest of the roster was filled out by Redd, a sharpshooter with an All-Star appearance to his name, and Prince, the versatile forward from the 2004 NBA Champion Pistons.
This impressive roster blew through the competition until enduring over Spain 118-107 in a very entertaining contest. The resulting gold medal was the first for USA in all competitions since the aforementioned 2000 team.
2) The 1996 Atlanta Team
Coach: Lenny Wilkins
Guards: Anfernee Hardaway, Reggie Miller, Gary Payton, Mitch Richmond, John Stockton
Forwards: Charles Barkley, Grant Hill, Karl Malone, Scottie Pippen
Centers: Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson
The team that followed up the spectacle that was the Dream Team lives in their shadow again on our list despite an incredibly impressive collection of talent. Shaq and Payton were just getting started on their resumes while Miller, Olajuwon Pippen, Robinson and Malone were in the middle of their Hall of Fame primes. Barkley was nearing the end of his illustrious career and Stockton was 34, but both were still incredibly productive.
The three "outcasts" on this roster unlikely to see Springfield still combined for 17 All-Star appearances. Richmond had six of those to his name and the lights out shooter was widely considered to be one of the toughest shooting guards to play against in his generation. Hill and Hardaway would no doubt have experienced greater heights to their careers had it not been for injuries. Hill, just 23 at the time, had already appeared in two of his seven All-Star Games.
As impressive as this group of ballers was, there is no doubt who will occupy the top spot in these rankings.
1) The 1992 Barcelona Team
Coach: Chuck Daly
Guards: Clyde Drexler, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, John Stockton
Forwards: Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, Karl Malone, Chris Mullin, Scottie Pippen, Christian Laettner
Centers: David Robinson, Patrick Ewing
The "Dream Team" was no doubt the most impressive basketball roster ever to be assembled. This group received every accolade that was real or speculative. It had the best player to ever grace the court (Jordan) two players considered among the game's best shooters (Mullin and Bird) two of the best passers ever (Magic and Stockton) and a host of other players inhabiting the NBA's Top 50 Greatest Players. Even Christian Laettner, the ugly duckling of this group, was one of the greatest college basketball players ever and former No. 3 overall pick. As if there was any doubt, this team is by far and away the most talented group of basketball players to represent the U.S.
As we look back on these great Olympic teams from the past, it is easy to wonder how the current pool of players will stack up when they are trimmed to 12 in July. Will they be better than the 2008 team? Have injuries to several elite players robbed their chance at *gasp* even surpassing the '96 squad? Or will those injuries and dropouts cause them to tumble all the way down to the bottom of the list? The fun, as always, is in the debate.
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