Most observers were stunned when Team USA was knocked out of the FIBA World Cup. Even with a roster that essentially amounted to the American B-team, the United States has such a massive advantage when it comes to raw talent that they entered the World Cup as heavy favorites to win gold.
But as far as Kobe Bryant is concerned, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. The two-time gold medalist at the Olympics told Brian Windhorst of ESPN that such outcomes are the inevitable result of a world that no longer trails the United States in basketball might.
“It’s not a matter of the rest of the world catching up to the U.S., it’s that the rest of the world has been caught up for quite some time,” Bryant said at the Wukesong Sports Center. “And it’s to the point now where us in the U.S. are going to win some, we’re going lose some. And that’s just how it goes.”
In Bryant’s eyes, the depleted roster that Team USA brought to China wasn’t the culprit either. After all, his loaded Olympic teams didn’t always have an easy road to gold.
“You have to remember on the Redeem Team we needed a hell of a fourth quarter to beat Spain. That was a hell of a team we had. We still needed a real late push to beat Spain in that gold medal match. So I say that to say, put the best players that you think are going to make the best U.S. team out on the floor, we are still going to have challenges. It’s not going to be a cakewalk. The days of the 92 Barcelona Dream Team are gone. They’re over, so it’s going to be tough.”
Bryant has a point considering what happened the last time Team USA lost in the World Cup. In 2006, Team USA brought LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Chris Bosh to Japan for the tournament, where they were beaten in the semifinals by a Greek team with no active NBA players.
No matter who Team USA sends to major tournaments, the structure of USA Basketball as a whole leaves the country vulnerable to defeat against top international opponents. Foreign teams spend years together, and in some cases, decades. Team USA is typically built on the fly, a concentration of All-Stars who have not played together and therefore lack the chemistry that makes foreign teams so lethal.
When you factor the improved talent of many of those top foreign teams into the equation, future losses for Team USA feel almost inevitable. Unless Team USA, these kinds of losses will continue piling up.