Host City: Beijing, China
Venue(s): Olympic Basketball Gymnasium, Beijing
Date Started: August 10, 2008
Date Finished: August 24, 2008
Format: Round-robin pools advance teams to classification matches.
The United States had won every basketball gold medal from 1936-1968, before being upset by the Soviet Union at the 1972 Olympics in a very controversial finish. The US continued to win gold medals until 1988, when they had to settle for a bronze. Thru that year, all United States’ teams had been chosen from collegiate, amateur players. But the basketball world was changing and other nations were becoming much stronger. As the Olympics were being opened up to professionals, in 1992 the US selected a team of NBA stars. Termed the Dream Team, and led by professional superstars Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird, this was likely the greatest basketball team ever. Nobody came close to the Dream Team in Barcelona, and many of the players were so happy simply to be playing again them, that after the games they would ask to pose for photographs with the players. In 1996 and 2000, NBA players again represented the United States and won gold medals, though the margins of victory were shrinking. In 2004, the inevitable happened as American dominance crumbled and the US had to scramble to win a bronze medal. This came after finishing only sixth at the 2002 World Championships, despite using NBA players and having the event played in the United States, at Indianapolis, Indiana.
USA Basketball opted for a new solution for 2008. In 2006 they appointed Mike Krzyzewski, the renowned college coach at Duke University, who had been an assistant coach in 1992 with the Dream Team. Krzyzewski, known as Coach K and for building one of the nation’s best programs at Duke and emphasizing a team concept, committed to a three-year program to set up a similar concept for a US National Team and coach them thru the 2008 Olympics. A graduate of the US Military Academy at West Point, Krzyzewski’s patriotism also made him ideal for the task. Early in 2006, about 30 NBA players were asked to commit to play on the US National Team for three years. Thirty players were necessary because of the risk of injuries, fatigue from the long NBA seasons, and to allow Coach K to select the best players as the Beijing Olympics approached. But first, the US had to qualify for Beijing. At the 2006 World Championships, the US team played better, but still lost in the semi-finals to Greece, having difficulty defending pick-and-rolls, and eventually placed only third. This required them to compete at the Tournament of the Americas in 2007 to qualify for the Olympics, which they did easily.
In Beijing the USA was obviously the best team. Opening against China and Yao Ming in front of the rabid Beijing fans, the US won 101-70. In their last two games of pool play, they defeated Spain, the 2006 World Champion and considered one of their big challengers, 119-82, and then finished off Germany, 106-57. The routs were on and the US Team, termed the Redeem Team by the American media, was evoking memories of 1992. They won the quarter-finals over Australia 116-85, and the semi-finals over Argentina, 101-81. In the final, they again faced Spain, and here the US was brought back to reality. They won the game, 118-107, but it was close. With only two minutes to play, Spain trailed by only four points, when Kobe Bryant stole the ball and canned a three-pointer to open a cushion, as the US pulled away in the last few minutes. The US was led by NBA stars Bryant, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade. At the medal ceremony, at which coaches do not receive medals, the US team poignantly placed all 12 of their gold medals around Coach K’s neck.