Every four years, the Olympics Games have repetitive plots: will Usain Bolt yet again be the fastest man on the planet? Will Brazil smash its way to the volleyball gold medal? And will the United States or any soft versions of that almighty 1992 Barcelona “Dream Team” conquer basketball again? Answer? Yes, yes, yes.
Last Thursday, the latter question was on the lips of the global media after Thomas Bach had vacated the large press conference room at the Olympic Park, following a barrage of critical questions about the International Olympic Committee’s contentious decision to not impose a blanket ban on Russia.
America’s male basketball stars have scarcely been subjected to a toxic cross-examination. With Carmelo Anthony, playing at his fourth Olympics for the US, and Kevin Durant spread around the room, the legion of journalists grabbed their smartphones, torn by professional due diligence and the compulsive inclination to take a selfie, an absolute taboo in media land.
In a corner of the room, Kyle Irving, a point-guard from Toronto, was at ease – “Yeah, Rio is great, greater than the National Basketball Association All-Star game.” or “Yeah, Serbia, Spain and France would be tough teams.” “Yeah, Carmelo is the leader of the team. Great guy, you know.”
“Can the US possibly not win?” dared a journalist.
“Naah, that’s a no-brainer,” responded Irving.
The US can’t lose
For any other team, that would be outright arrogance and cockiness, but not so for the United States. They have brought a fresh-faced squad to Rio with newcomers Irving, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, not even benefitting from the services of NBA megastars Steven Curry and LeBron James. The US’s illustrious Olympic history is the biggest deterrent for the other competitors in the tournament.
The seeds of this team were planted in the team’s pre-Olympic tour. Coach Mike Krzyzewski lit up with delight at times as he moulded his team. In two exhibition games against China, the Americans coalesced and solidified player rotations. They connected for the long stretches of two mammoth wins against the Chinese, 107-57 and 106-57 respectively. DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony were the top scorers in the exhibitions, scoring 21 and 20 points respectively.
At that point, the Americans hadn’t lost a game since the 2006 World Championships, winning 68 straight games and were 48-1 in exhibitions since NBA stars took over the roster in 1992, going undefeated since 2004.
The Americans’ superiority is frightening, borderline parody, because, after all, for the Americans, world champions in their own NBA and world champions in the real world, there is nothing left to conquer. They are the sole owners of the Olympic gold: the players are custom-made for the sport and produce the best basketball has to offer. Australia, Venezuela, France and Serbia, the other Group A contenders, know it. And so do the rest of the tournament’s participants.
Blowing away the Chinese
The Chinese were the first to suffer the ignominy of another complete blow-out. Durant, Klay, Kyrie, Cousins and Anthony started for the US on Saturday. China went 2-0 up in what would be a false start for them on a difficult night.
The question was never if the US was going to win, but by how many. They led after the first quarter 30-10, punctuated by Jimmy Butler scoring at the buzzer. At the half-time that lead had jumped to 29 points, 59-30. The US led in field goal percentage, three-point percentage, free throw percentage, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. China had the edge in turnovers and fouls.
The US’s depth was simply too much for the Chinese to handle. They smothered their opponents with all-court pressure, sapping any resistance China could muster. The American defence is close to being anointed as the all-time best. The domination resulted in a lopsided 119-62 final score. Durant scored 25 points and Demarcus Cousins added 17.
The post-match message from the US was clear – “keep playing”, according to DaMarcus Cousins and coach Krzyzewski. Victory is not a self-fulfilling prophecy. Indeed, the legacy of the 1992 Dream Team is that the rest of the world improved and, in turn, the United States themselves had to step up. They did. They have just kept playing.