The time has come for us to realize that unless our biggest and brightest stars play in international competition, the world has caught up to us in basketball.
The last time we were embarrassed on a national stage we sent all of our best players to the Olympics and destroyed people. Our Dream Team beat Angola by 68 points to open the 1992 Olympics and defeated Croatia by 32 to end it.
They must be cringing. Maybe Michael Jordan was so fed up, that’s the real reason he sold part of his majority stake in the Charlotte Hornets over the weekend.
I wouldn’t blame him. The games Jordan played in with the Dream Team were such blowouts that it was more like watching an NBA All-Star Game.
But this year there was no Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, LeBron James, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard and the like.
And to be honest, we’d like to think those guys would go to international competitions and bury teams the way the Dream Team once did, but we can no longer know that for sure.
The gap has closed, but how far is the question.
What we do know is that a team led by Harrison Barnes, Kemba Walker and Donovan Mitchell isn’t good enough.
First, the team ended a nearly 13-year streak of 78 consecutive international wins with a 98-94 loss to Australia.
Australia? The 11th-ranked team in the world?
Here’s what USA Basketball and San Antonio Spurs coach Greg Popovich said following that loss:
“Nobody wins forever. The Aussies gave us a great lesson as far as where we have to be and how we have to play in this kind of competition. So, we’ll get used to that and hopefully learn.”
So he just said the United States needs to learn how to play basketball from Australia, a continent that has produced a handful of NBA rotation players, but not much past Luc Longley, Matthew Dellavedova and, since he was born there, Ben Simmons.
Well, let’s just say Team USA didn’t learn its lesson.
In the quarterfinals, Team USA bowed out with a 89-79 loss to France.
That ended a 58-game winning streak with USA Basketball using NBA players and it should get us riled up.
Then, in the consolation game, they got behind Serbia 32-7 after the first quarter and lost to them 94-89.
But who cares what the score was?
The USA just finished seventh in the FIBA World Cup and that is not something we can feel very good about.
The NBA season is long and its top stars no longer want to represent our country in international competition.
Maybe they will now. Or maybe it’s gotten to the point where it won’t matter anyway.
We thought we could coast with some mid-level stars and beat the world, but we can’t anymore. These losses should resonate with us, but it may be too late with the 2020 Olympic Games coming to Tokyo so soon.
Maybe our stars will play. Maybe they won’t.
Maybe it won’t matter because we’re just not that good anymore.