Is Team USA following the path set by the 2004 bronze medalists?

  • Co-author, Pro Basketball Prospectus series
  • Formerly a consultant with the Indiana Pacers
  • Developed WARP rating and SCHOENE system

Is the U.S. men’s basketball team following the same path as the 2004 team that rallied for a bronze medal in the Athens Olympics?

Team USA’s 83-76 loss to France in Sunday’s opening game in Tokyo was its first loss in Olympic competition since 2004, when a defeat to eventual gold medalist Argentina in the semifinals doomed the U.S. to the bronze-medal game. Then as now, Team USA suffered early losses in pre-Olympics exhibition play and fell in its opening game of pool play.

USA Basketball responded to the disappointment of 2004 by putting together a stronger program with Mike Krzyzewski leading the U.S. to gold medals with undefeated runs in the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympics. Is that streak of golds destined to end as Team USA’s Olympic winning streak did? Let’s break down the comparison.

World Championship prelude

Although 2004 was the first time a U.S. team with NBA players lost in the Olympics, the pros previously lost on home soil in the 2002 FIBA World Championships in Indianapolis, going 6-3 and finishing in sixth place after a loss in the quarterfinals to Yugoslavia.

By 2019, the world’s other major global basketball competition had been renamed the FIBA World Cup, but the results for the U.S. in China were similar: a loss in the quarterfinals to France and a seventh-place finish.

Star players unavailable

Initially, USA Basketball bounced back well from the disappointment of 2002. Needing to qualify for the Olympics through the next summer’s FIBA Tournament of the Americas — now known as the AmeriCup — the U.S. put together a roster featuring five members of the 2002-03 All-NBA teams plus future Hall of Famer Ray Allen and likely Hall of Famer Vince Carter. That group crushed Argentina 106-73 in the final to win the tournament. The U.S. seemed to have regained its place atop the basketball world.

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