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The Best Non-USA Team Ever Assembled

In case you missed it this summer, Team USA failed to capture Gold in the FIBA Americup for the second time in Team USA history. This was less unexpected I believe than the previous time Puerto Rico beat a team of college kids including Gary Payton, Christian Laettner, Lionel Simmons, Antonio Davis, and Rodney Monroe. When you see the roster Team USA rolled out and who was playing this summer vs another legitimate pro. Norris Cole and Craig Sword were the 2 leading scorers, and Stephen Zimmerman and Gary Clark were the biggest inside presence. They shouldn’t have been the favorite but there are many examples we will look at where Team USA were heavy favorites and lost.

3 times in the 19 Olympics the US has played in basketball they didn’t win the gold in 1972, 1988, and 2004. (1980 Team USA didn’t play in Moscow)

1955-1985, 1990, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2019 they also failed to win Gold in the FIBA World Cup.

1989, 2022 they failed to win the FIBA Americup

I think everyone understands the issues college players had playing older professional players before 1992, no matter how good many stars would become they were nearly all under 23 years old. Losing to older professional men was possible. After NBA players were allowed to play for Team USA it’s been less understandable. Even after the “system” of showing up that contributed to losing in the 2002 and 2006 World Cup and the 2004 Olympics reformed with higher commitment and participation. Team USA has still been pushed and lost more recently since the Redeem Team.

In the last few years, Team USA especially dropped several unexpected games and has their lowest finish ever in an international tournament the 2019 FIBA World Cup. That is a testament to how much the rest of the world has caught up in basketball since 1992 I believe, but also the commitment most of their top players make in other countries to playing and the chemistry they can build with in their teams over time. The original Dream Team inspired many young players in other countries.

While it’s understandable how other teams can compete, it’s also not in many ways when you consider the size (332 Million) of the United States and the kind of culture and training that exist in this country. It’s something I don’t think is ever talked about enough, the pool of players team USA has compared to the other top basketball countries.

PopulationIn Millions
USA332
France67
Australia26
Slovenia2

These were the top 4 teams in the last Olympics. The fact some of these nationals can compete at all with Team USA is amazing. It’s something I’ve never heard given the perspective it deserves. A player like Luka Doncic helps certainly, but it’s still incredible to me that a country of 2 million can put enough around him to compete as they have. It would be one thing if Team USA just dropped a fluke game, that happens and is completely understandable. What isn’t is dropping multiple games to countries like Nigeria and Australia in the Olympic exhibitions, or finishing 7th in the World Cup in 2019 with the kind of talent Team USA has rostered.

FIBA World Cup

Let’s start post-Dream Team when Team USA started to feature professionals where the losing begins. Technically it began in 1998 in the FIBA World Cup but I don’t count this. This team was made mostly of college students like Trajan Langdon and Brad Miller of the notable ones. Jimmy Oliver and Wendell Alexis were the leading scores.

2002

This is the first team that lost, which left people scratching their heads. It featured 25-year-old All-Star Paul Pierce averaging nearly 20ppg and a team of stars at the time. Elton Brand was also an All-Star that season and it was also hosted in Indianapolis to add to the string of losing on home soil.

2002
PlayerBirth Date
Elton BrandMar 11, 1979
Antonio DavisOct 31, 1968
Baron DavisApr 13, 1979
Michael FinleyMar 6, 1973
Raef LaFrentzMay 29, 1976
Shawn MarionMay 7, 1978
Andre MillerMar 19, 1976
Reggie MillerAug 24, 1965
Jermaine O’NealOct 13, 1978
Paul PierceOct 13, 1977
Ben WallaceSep 10, 1974
Jay WilliamsSep 10, 1981

That was a real team led in scoring by Pierce and Finley and rebounding by Ben Wallace and Shawn Marrion. They would finish 6-3 and 6th place. The losses were to Spain, Yugoslavia, and Argentina. There were some names on some of these teams, but most were also very young like Pau Gasol, Jose Calderon, Manu Ginobili, and Luis Scola. FR Yogoslavia did have some older or more prime players like Paja Stojakovic, and Vlade Divac. Some of the talents these teams had makes it a bit more understandable in retrospect than it was initially at the time.

2006

We will skip over the 2004 Olympics for the time being. By 2006, it was obvious there was a problem having lost in 2004 and 2002.

2006
Carmelo AnthonyMay 29, 1984
Shane BattierSep 9, 1978
Chris BoshMar 24, 1984
Elton BrandMar 11, 1979
Kirk HinrichJan 2, 1981
Dwight HowardDec 8, 1985
LeBron JamesDec 30, 1984
Antawn JamisonJun 12, 1976
Joe JohnsonJun 29, 1981
Brad MillerApr 12, 1976
Chris PaulMay 6, 1985
Dwyane WadeJan 17, 1982

While this wasn’t the best the roster the USA could have rolled out, it certainly was a roster you would expect to beat Greece with no one of note on their team. Dwayne Wade had just won a championship that summer and was in his prime at 24. They didn’t beat Greece and would finish with Bronze, in what might be the most embarrassing finish relative to the roster.

2019

2019
Harrison BarnesMay 30, 1992
Jaylen BrownOct 24, 1996
Joe HarrisSep 6, 1991
Brook LopezApr 1, 1988
Khris MiddletonAug 12, 1991
Donovan MitchellSep 7, 1996
Mason PlumleeMar 5, 1990
Marcus SmartMar 6, 1994
Jayson TatumMar 3, 1998
Myles TurnerMar 24, 1996
Kemba WalkerMay 8, 1990
Derrick WhiteJul 2, 1994

2019 is the worst finish ever, 7th place. While it’s not the strongest roster it’s still a very disappointing finish even for a team led by Kemba Walker and Donovan Mitchell. Khris Middleton and Kemba were both All-Stars that season.

2004 Olympics

Team USA had already suffered defeat at the 2002 World Cup to multiple teams. 2004 would feature a loaded team of stars and future stars. The time and moment too soon for a few.

2004
Carmelo AnthonyMay 29, 1984
Carlos BoozerNov 20, 1981
Tim DuncanApr 25, 1976
Allen IversonJun 7, 1975
LeBron JamesDec 30, 1984
Richard JeffersonJun 21, 1980
Stephon MarburyFeb 20, 1977
Shawn MarionMay 7, 1978
Lamar OdomNov 6, 1979
Emeka OkaforSep 28, 1982
Amar’e StoudemireNov 16, 1982
Dwyane WadeJan 17, 1982

Iverson and Duncan were the only All-Stars that season, but they were at the height of their prime and two of the best players in the world. Lebron, Wade, and Carmelo had all just wrapped their rookie seasons, but they were already stars just like everyone else on this list had put up nice NBA star-type seasons. This roster was embarrassed by Puerto Rico, a US territory of 3 million people, 92-73.

The Best Non NBA teams

There are three I believe have to be considered. The 2004 Argentina Gold Medal team is in, Spain in 2008 pushed the Redeem Team so far, and in 1992 Croatia. I believe you have to have them in that order. The Yugoslavia team that Croatia grew out of and the Sabonis-led Soviet team also deserves a mention as well. Yugoslavia was too young at that point but did also finish with the Silver over team USA. It featured, Vlade Divac, Toni Kukoc, Drazen Petrovic, Dino Radja, and Stojko Vrankovic, but most were 20 to 21 years old at the time.

2004 Argentina

That golden generations of Ginobili, Andres Nocionii, Luis Scola, Fabricio Oberto, Carlos Delfino, and Walter Herrmann would all have NBA careers of varying degrees. My take on them has always been that their chemistry was so great having grown up playing together, that is really how they did it. Having one hall of the Famer on-ball player like Ginobili as their best player at a position, you need the most help as well. Being 25 years old and in his prime he was the right man at the right moment, but a team that lost to Puerto Rico by nearly 20 was ripe for the taking.

2008 Spain

This team featured the Gasol brothers, Calderon, Juan Carlos Naverro, Rudy Fernandez, and an 18-year-old Ricky Rubio. That’s 6 solid NBA players and a couple of Hall of Famers. Spain would fall 118-107 but it was a game that was highly competitive and as close as 2 points with 8 minutes to go and still within 6 with under 2 minutes. The case can certainly be made this was the best team ever considering how competitive they were in the Gold Medal game with perhaps the 2nd best team ever assembled after the Dream Team. The only knock IMO is they had lost to them more handily earlier. I still believe I would go with Spain

Verdict: Spain 2008. In the Redeem Team documentary, Lebron mentioned the gold medal game this was probably the most high level of basketball ever played vs the two best teams ever to play. I think I would agree with him. By this point the United States had fixed most of the flaws. Coach K had installed a culture and many of the players had team chemistry playing over 3 years. Kobe and Lebron were the two best players in the world at the time and this Redeem team was so loaded Dwade who could have been the 3rd best was coming off the bench. It’s a game where all parties were taking it seriously with major stakes on the line, and it went down to the wire. Spain was in it all the way, with arguably the best or 2nd best team ever assembled. I think that redeem team was likely playing more like a team than the Dream Team too. For those reason I think you have to go with Spain in 2008.

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