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This summer’s roster at USA Basketball training camp in Las Vegas will not be nearly as star-studded as previous years’ teams since many of the biggest stars on the initial list of camp invitees pulled out for a variety of reasons.
Still, with a major tournament about to tip off and just one year out from the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, it’s worth looking back on the legacy of dominance by the United States men’s national team, which began with 1992’s legendary Dream Team.
That team, which took home the gold medal at the Summer Olympics in Barcelona, was a virtual All-Star squad comprised of NBA legends, the likes of which, as much as they’ve tried, has not been seen since then.
All seven Olympic teams dating back to 1992 are ranked in this top 10, along with the three most important and influential FIBA World Championship teams, whose legacies are inextricably linked to the Olympic squads. A combination of star power, tournament success and historical significance are taken into account in the rankings.
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The final Larry Brown-coached team’s disastrous showing in Athens led to a full revamp of the USA Basketball program. On paper, the 2004 team had no shortage of talent—including Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson and up-and-comers LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony—but that didn’t translate to on-court success.
Team USA lost its tournament-opening game by 19 points to Puerto Rico and lost once more in group play before ultimately falling to Argentina in the semifinals and defeating Lithuania in the bronze-medal game.
For most teams, a third-place finish would be something to celebrate. But USA Basketball’s history of dominance set the bar high, and this group did not live up to those expectations in Greece.
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After the 2004 debacle, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski took over from Larry Brown as head coach of the USA Basketball program. The 2006 squad kept the young core of James, Anthony and Wade and added fellow young stars Chris Bosh, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard to the mix.
However, the revamped roster didn’t translate to increased tournament success at the FIBA World Championship.
The USA team went undefeated in group play but lost to Greece in the semifinal game, and Greece went on to be blown out 70-47 by Spain in the title game. The Americans did avenge their 2004 Olympic loss to Argentina in the third-place game, which was a small consolation.
The 2006 tournament represented some forward progress, but it also showed the program still had work to do.
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At the turn of the century, USA Basketball was in a period of transition.
Most of the second Dream Team had aged out of the program, with Gary Payton as the only holdover from the 1996 squad. They stuck with the tried-and-true formula of drawing from the pool of NBA stars, but that pool was relatively weak in the immediate post-Michael Jordan era.
The 2000 team was headlined by young superstars Kevin Garnett and Vince Carter, alongside veterans like Payton, Steve Smith, Jason Kidd, Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway. The star power wasn’t nearly as overwhelming as it was in the years before or since, but the U.S. still went undefeated in the tournament to capture its third straight Olympic gold medal.
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A relatively run-of-the-mill dominant squad in the Coach K era won the gold medal in Serbia without much trouble.
The 2014 team didn’t have the wall-to-wall star power of its predecessors—NBA role players Kenneth Faried, Mason Plumlee and Rudy Gay got roster spots—but there were still plenty of big names like Anthony Davis and Kyrie Irving, who were just coming into their own as NBA superstars.
Derrick Rose, working his way back from missing most of the previous two seasons with knee injuries, used the 2014 tournament to regain his footing. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson used it as a precursor to the Golden State Warriors’ dynasty, and James Harden‘s recent run of dominance also kicked off that summer.
Unfortunately, the most memorable part of this team’s run actually came before the start of the tournament when Paul George suffered a broken leg during an inter-squad scrimmage in Las Vegas that caused him to miss most of the 2014-15 season. The team still had enough firepower to overcome that massive loss and cruise to a gold medal in the world cup.
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One of the most loaded Olympic squads outside of the two Dream Teams featured many of the NBA’s biggest stars.