LeBron and Co. had a dream, too

July 30, 2012|By Jack M Silverstein | For RedEye

For a meaningful comparison of the Dream Team and Redeem Team II, do an image search of "LeBron Michael Redd hug." You'll find a picture of an ecstatic LeBron James hugging Michael Redd as the final seconds of the 2008 gold medal game at the Beijing Olympics tick away.

Then enter "Dream Team medal stand" and you'll see Nike men Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley, gold medals around their necks, American flags draped over the Reebok logo on their warm-ups. Not exactly Tommie Smith and John Carlos.

Those two images sum up the meaning of each of these great basketball teams. 1992 was all about American exceptionalism sponsored by corporate interests. The Redeem Team, meanwhile, was about restoring American humility AND American excellence by honoring the relationship between the two. What began as an honor steadily morphed into an uninspired mess. By 2000, American fans were turning against USA Basketball, and in 2004, the U.S. returned home with its first non-gold of the professional era.

The forgotten men of that 2004 team were Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony who, despite their talents, finished seventh, ninth and 11th in minutes played.

That would be enough for many NBA players to throw in the towel. Instead, they became the captains of new USA Basketball executive director Jerry Colangelo's "three-year mission," leading the U.S. to a bronze finish in the 2006 world championships and regaining the gold in 2008.

It's often said that Magic Johnson and Larry Bird saved the NBA. Well, I've got news for you: LeBron, Carmelo and Wade saved USA Basketball. These men have produced the greatest USA Basketball careers. Not even Jordan can say otherwise.

So yes, in a showdown between 1992 and 2012, I'll take the Dream Team, easy. But my heart lies with this 2006-12 squad, a group you can root for like you do the Bulls. Like the other nations, the U.S. now has a true men's national basketball team, proving that while the talent still resides in the States, sometimes you have to take a cue from the rest of the world.

Jack M Silverstein is a RedEye special contributor.

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