By Dionysis Aravantinos / @AravantinosDA
The 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup was completed on September 15 with Spain capturing the gold medal. Team USA had its worst international showing ever, ending up in the disappointing seventh-place. Still, the Americans managed to clinch a spot for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics where a potential second Redeem Team could occur. But, getting back on top won’t be easy.
As NBA legend and FIBA Global Ambassador, Kobe Bryant said in Beijing, the dream team days are over. “Put the best players that you think are going to make the best U.S. team out on the floor – it’s still not going to be a cakewalk. The days of 1992 are over,” says Bryant. “The rest of the world has been caught up for quite some time. It’s to the point where us in the U.S. are going to win some, going to lose some. There’s just great basketball being played. Whether it’s Redeem [team] two, no matter what team it is, it’s not going to be easy. It’s not a matter of the rest of the world catching up to the U.S.”
Team USA’s dominance is indeed fading away. It’s not just that Team USA was eliminated in the quarter-finals by France, or that they finished seventh, but international players are turning into NBA superstars. After all, basketball is becoming a global game, and the 2019 NBA Awards simply prove that: MVP (Greece), MIP (Cameroon), DPOY (France), Sixth Man (USA), ROY (Slovenia), Champions (Canada). The FIBA World Cup semi-finals even had four countries from three different continents. Earlier on Thursday, the field for the 2020 FIBA Olympics was set, and a plethora of NBA stars will be ready to compete in the pre-Olympic tournaments.
For some, Team USA’s poor performance in the World Cup was considered a wake-up call, but for others, it was expected, given the team’s weak roster compared to prior years, and the level of competition. Even with a different roster, a potential championship run in the 2020 Olympics won’t be a cakewalk. “You got to tip your cap to the world,” says Myles Turner. “We don’t live in the era anymore, where Team USA is the best team or they have the most talented group in the world. Some teams are catching up now, some have already caught up”. Being the best team for one game can prove the world champion. As the Americans put it, Spain played three Game 7s to capture the gold medal. “It’s about who is the better team, that day”, adds Harrison Barnes. “That’s what ultimately it boils down to. Coming into the tournament, would anyone have guessed it would have been Spain and Argentina in the final”?
Meanwhile, NBA superstars are already committing to Team USA for the Olympics that’ll take place in Tokyo, Japan next summer. Even if redemption isn’t easy, the Americans definitely want to be back on top. In an ESPN interview with Rachel Nichols, Steph Curry said he’s committed to playing for the team next year. “That’s the plan,” he says. Portland superstar, Damian Lillard also told new.com.au he plans to participate in the Olympics: “I plan on being a part of that. I plan on playing.” Meanwhile, Donovan Mitchell who had a great showing in the 2019 FIBA World Cup and also made Eurohoops’ top-10 players list, told the media he’d love to be back next summer. Kemba Walker said the same thing. Warriors‘ Draymond Green also hopes to play for Team USA next summer, while back in April, LeBron James even said that “playing for team USA in 2020 Olympics is a possibility“.
It sure looks as Team USA roster will be different next summer, with some marquee names wanting to join the squad. However, USA Basketball Managing Director, Jerry Colangelo said that “you remember who you thought you were going to war with and who didn’t show up,” while referring to the 32 player withdrawals, per the Associated Press. The timing of the tournament, however, definitely plays a huge role in how many NBA stars will participate. The FIBA World Cup ended in mid-September, whereas the Olympic tournament will end in mid-August. This by itself should be motivating for superstars to join a potentially second Redeem Team. The fact that Team USA finished seventh in the World Cup also adds to the thrill.