Kobe Bryant and U.S. men's basketball team seek place in history

July 27, 2012

The millionaire superstars were scattered around the large auditorium as reporters jostled for position, waving their recorders and barking their questions.

“This is more physical than our games,” Kobe Bryant said in the middle of Friday’s U.S. men’s basketball media availability. “This right here is crazy. I’ve seen at least two flagrant fouls.”

While he was asked about Spain and France and Argentina, Bryant also had to again address a hypothetical foe: the Dream Team. Earlier this month, Bryant sparked the nation-wide barstool debate that even President Obama has weighed in on. The gold medal-winning 1992 squad was a better team, Bryant said, but this year’s U.S. men’s basketball team wouldn’t lie down in a make-believe matchup.

“It’s silly,” Bryant said Friday, “because I didn’t say we were a better team. But if you think we can’t beat that team one time, you’re crazy.”

Kobe & Co. won’t have to worry about facing the Dream Team in these Summer Games. But with the prospects of again dominating the Olympic tournament, that measuring stick is the only one that makes sense for most fans. While winning gold is the simplest and most obvious aim in London, the Americans also will be writing their own legacy, and basketball fans around the world will try to determine whether this squad is the greatest ever.

“If we play the way we can, this can be the best team ever assembled,” LeBron James said.

The United States begins pool play Sunday with a game against France. Team USA features a mix of youth and experience and has breezed through the pre-Olympic competition.

The team arrived in London on Thursday. While players such as James and Carmelo Anthony have played in two prior Summer Games and are familiar with the Olympic pageantry, the squad’s younger stars quickly learned what a unique experience they have in store.

Washington native Kevin Durant, who had never been to London, is one of seven players on the squad who will be making his Olympic debut.

“I’m just trying to take everything in and enjoy this experience,” he said.

Durant is one of five players who played on the U.S. team that won the 2010 world championships. Despite being scrutinized for its lack of size, that team still won all but one game by double digits. This Olympic team is even smaller.

Without injured big men Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin and Chris Bosh, the Americans will rely on Tyson Chandler in the middle with some help from Kevin Love and James.

“We are what we are,” U.S. Coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “I just think you try to play the best with the guys you have and not constantly think about what you don’t have. If you’re constantly thinking about what you don’t have, you never maximize what you do have.”

Adding intrigue to this year’s squad is the uncertainty surrounding the future of the U.S. national team. NBA Commissioner David Stern has floated the idea of returning to an under-23 squad, which could make this year’s group the last super team assembled.

“I wouldn’t like that. . . . I would like to play again,” said Durant, who’s 23.

The only member of this year’s team who would be 23 in 2016 is Anthony Davis. Davis, in fact, was born eight months after the Dream Team won gold in Barcelona. He says he knows very little about that team, though he’s learning.

“I guess I’m like the Christian Laettner,” he said.

The comparisons won’t end there. This tournament will decide the United States’s international standing but also this team’s place in history.

“The ’92 Dream Team is the ’92 Dream Team and that’s that,” James said. “We’re not going to be able to play against them. Father Time isn’t going to allow that to happen. So it doesn’t matter what anyone says about any of that. I’ll just say we can be great team, too.”

Rick Maese is a sports reporter for The Washington Post.
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