The honeymoon had already ended by 1996, or so it felt to hardcore fans of the original Dream Team. And at the turn of the millennium, some hoop heads were openly questioning whether NBA players should have been allowed to participate in the Olympics after the history-making ÔÇÖ92 team. It wasnÔÇÖt as much fun watching increasingly watered down all-star teams stomp the competition into submission with a less aesthetically pleasing on-court product.
Fans were already flocking to football at the time as fantasy became a de facto fifth professional sport. On top of that ebbing of interest, the 2004 USA Basketball team didnÔÇÖt have the names of past squads. Looking back at the roster, it might not seem so stark, but at the time they were basically a glorified college all-star team coached by a man, Larry Brown, who had little patience for underlings, and a led by a player, Tim Duncan, who wasnÔÇÖt going to do much to change the status quo. Timmy was great at concurrently leading the Spurs with friend Gregg Popovich, but put him on a coasting USA Basketball Team that still hadnÔÇÖt lost at the Olympics since before the ÔÇÖ92 juggernaut, and itÔÇÖs his ninth circle of hell.
The 2004 team also didnÔÇÖt have the chemistry, or the roster-wide balance necessary to compete on an international stage that was just coming into its own due to the global exposure of the game from the previous three Dream Team iterations. The theory behind the squad seemed to be the teaming of Hall-of-Fame coach Brown with his former prized pupil, Allen Iverson. Except, this was USA Basketball, not the Philadelphia 76ers. Stephon Marbury, bless his heart, is a whole lot different from Eric Snow.
The only veteran presence, you could say, was Duncan and Iverson, and in ÔÇÖ04, Timmy was just 28. He and Iverson, the latter, just 29 but already on the downside of his career, acted ostensibly as the leaders. Think about that for a second. AI is great, one of the truly iconic players the game has ever seen, but he wasnÔÇÖt equipped to lead that team at that juncture of his life. If we’re being honest, neither was Duncan.
The ÔÇÖ04 team also featured the three-headed hydra that would come to dominate the Association for the next decade plus; except, they had only just come onto the scene in that heralded 2003 Draft. LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade had already made a name for themselves in their rookie campaigns, but they were too inexperienced to really set the tone for the team. Then again, maybe we donÔÇÖt see them go on to have the success they have at the international level if they didnÔÇÖt take their lumps in ÔÇÖ04.
Another problem facing BrownÔÇÖs squad: Duncan was listed as a forward, which meant putting Emeka Okafor and AmarÔÇÖe Stoudemire ÔÇö 6-foot-9 and 6-foot-7, respectively ÔÇö at center. They were an undersized team, is what weÔÇÖre saying, and doubly so with Stephon Marbury and Iverson manning the guard slots and over-dribbling with wing players like Melo, LeBron and Wade filling the lanes, void of the actual rock.
Some other names on this team to remember: Shawn Marion, Lamar Odom, Carlos Boozer and Richard Jefferson (yes, the same guy who won a title this past season with the Cavs) fleshed out a poor-shooting team without any big men to crash the boards and intimidate their peers in the paint. Foresight is 20/20, but looking back itÔÇÖs hard to fathom they didnÔÇÖt see all these issues heading into the games in Greece.
Even before the U.S. took on Argentina in the semifinal round, the unthinkable had already happened. The 2004 Team suffered the worst lost in USA Basketball history against tiny Puerto Rico, 92-73, in the opening contest of the Games. That wasnÔÇÖt all, either; their fall had just begun.
While embarrassing, the historic loss ÔÇö the first for a USA Basketball team led by NBA players in the Olympic Games ÔÇö was compounded by a 94-90 loss to Lithuania less than a week later.
So heading into their contest against Argentina on August 27, 2004, the most underwhelming Dream Team ever had a lot to prove, not the least of which was advancing to the gold medal game against Italy. And itÔÇÖs clear from the opening tip, theyÔÇÖd been exposed. Only a team that had already seen its own mortality can continue to bleed and lose to a less-talented squad, and it just so happened that Argentina was peaking as an international basketball presence at the very best time. A lefty dynamo with a mop top named Manu Ginobili was coming into his prime as a player in the NBA and on the international stage. Then there was a youngster with an old man game.
Luis Scola wasnÔÇÖt going to bowl over any big men, even back in 2004. And while he led all players in that 2004 semifinal game against the USA with five turnovers, he also chipped in two steals, 10 points and four boards. The man of the hour, though, was DuncanÔÇÖs San Antonio teammate.
Ginobili scored a game-high 29 points in the win, and he led the team in scoring throughout as Argentina captured gold against Italy in the final game of the tournament. But while ManuÔÇÖs scoring and playmaking were the biggest reason the American team lost for their third time of the tournament and barely salvaged a bronze medal, it was ScolaÔÇÖs dunk in Richard JeffersonÔÇÖs face after the game had been decided that thrust USA hoops into his current trajectory.
The actual jam itself wasnÔÇÖt anything to write home about. Richard Jefferson mightÔÇÖve even blocked the unathletic Argentinian if he had gotten to it a shade faster. And while ScolaÔÇÖs jam might have meant very little on the surface, the consequences rippled out and eventually led to the bicameral USA Basketball hierarchy with Jerry Colangelo as the director, and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski as the coach.
Before their now-global devastation during the Olympics in Greece, American fans and journos figured the USA Basketball domination would continue unabated until a shocking upset occurred. But the U.S. team crapped the bed so bad, with three losses punctuated by that Scola jam in the final L, it sped up that process and forced USA Basketball to put a path in place so their bronze medal showing would never happen again.
So far, it hasn’t.
USA BasketballÔÇÖs Watershed Moment Was Luis ScolaÔÇÖs 2004 Dunk In Garbage Time : UPROXX