Since NBA players have been allowed to play for Team USA, America has dominated the world basketball stage.
But since the Dream Team’s dominant run in 1992, the World has inched ever closer to Team USA.
Following a disappointing seventh-place finish at the 2019 FIBA World Cup, the worst finish ever in a major international competition by a team from the United States, this group sought to reestablish the country’s dominance in their native sport.
3. The World Is Closer Than Team USA Wants To Admit
Kevin Durant believes Team USA's skill is "unmatched" compared to the rest of the world. pic.twitter.com/qa1Bp9XkOm
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) August 7, 2021
The record for Team USA in men’s basketball remains an impressive 143-6 all-time in Olympic play.
That said, the country stands a long way from the Dream Team’s dominance in 1992.
That famed squad, loaded with Hall of Famers, won its eight Olympic contests by an average of 43.8 points.
They won their six Olympic qualifying games by 51.5 points a game.
But since then, the World has slowly creeped up on the Americans, closing the gap in talent and skill level.
In years when frontline players opted out, and second-tier talent wore the Stars and Stripes, the World took advantage and scored upset victories.
The 2002 FIBA World Championships showed the first signs of slippage, then Team USA’s shocking bronze medal finish in 2004 demonstrated just how close the World had come.
However, once Team USA fortified its roster with top American talent again, the gap widened.
But these Olympics demonstrated how, even with the best American players on the floor, the World has inched closer once again.
Evidence of this narrowing gap came clearly in Team USA’s loss to Nigeria.
Less than 10 years after scoring the country’s largest single-game win ever when they defeated Nigeria by 83 points at the 2012 London Olympics (156-73), Team USA lost 90-87 to the Nigerians in a pre-Olympic exhibition.
The Americans ultimately lost three times during this turn, to Nigeria, Australia, and France.
The loss to France in during group play snapped a 17-year undefeated streak.
2. Defensive Stoppers Are Key
Team USA used to be simply an All-Star squad.
The NBA’s greatest scorers, like Michael Jordan, often headlined the team in the past but as the skill-level gap between America and the World narrowed, Team USA needed to include other talents.
Jordan took pride in his defense, as did Kobe Bryant, but in the intervening years since those stars took the floor for their country, the games morphed more into exhibitions than actual competitions.
During this Olympic cycle, Team USA lost three games.
It was Fournier’s 28-point performance that stood out, considering it came in during group play and snapped Team USA’s 25-game Olympic winning streak.
But what changed during that loss to France was Team USA’s roster.
It was the addition of Holiday, a stout perimeter defender, that provided a spark to the squad’s starting lineup.
Holiday helped shut down Fournier in the gold medal game, limiting the Frenchman to just 16 points on 5-of-15 shooting.
Americans slipped in Olympic play years ago because of perimeter shooting.
Now, Team USA must also consider locking down the perimeter on defense to maintain their spot atop the basketball world.
1. Kevin Durant Best Team USA Player
During this Olympic run, Kevin Durant has cemented himself as the best player in Team USA history.
The 32-year-old 11-time All-Star and two-time NBA champion added to his National Team resume with this latest gold medal win.
Durant became just the second men’s American player to win three Olympic gold medals, joining Carmelo Anthony.
Durant paced Team USA with 29 points in the gold medal game against France.
He became the first American men’s player to average 20 points in Olympic play.
Durant needed one more basket to break his mark of 30 points in a gold medal game, a record he shared with Adrian Dantley who achieved the feat in 1976.
◽️ 3x Olympic Gold Medalist
◽️ Team USA's All-Time leader in PTS, FTs and 3's
◽️ FIBA World Championship Gold Medalist
◽️ FIBA World Championship MVP
◽️ 2x USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year
Kevin Durant brings it when it's time for international play 🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/8FuxjdfsgE
— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) August 7, 2021
This run also vaulted Durant to the top of the record books as an overall scorer in Olympic play, passing Anthony in that regard.
Durant led Team USA in scoring in 2012, 2016, and in 2021, winning gold each time.