Overall this year’s Olympic Games were filled with many highs and lows for the United States.
In recent years it has become increasingly evident that the talent gap that once separated the United States from the rest of the world is becoming narrower and narrower. This year was no exception, as the United States no longer exerted the dominance it once had over many of the other countries in various competitions.
Nonetheless, the United States once again finished with more medals than any other country. As Sunday’s competitions wrapped up, the United States had 103 medals, including 35 gold. Russia took second place with 92 total medals, including 27 gold. China finished a distant third in the medal count, with 63 total medals, including 32 gold.
Highlights for the United States included 16-year-old Baton Rouge, La. native Carly Patterson’s gold medal victory in the women’s individual all-around gymnastics. Michael Phelps of Baltimore, Md. dominated many of the swimming competitions, earning six gold medals and two bronze medals, while setting four Olympic records and one world record.
Perhaps the most scintillating moment for many United States fans was seeing U.S. sprinters Shawn Crawford, Bernard Williams and Justin Gatlin finish first, second and third respectively in the men’s 200 meter sprint, bringing all three medals home to the United States.
The United States women’s basketball team also earned a gold medal for the third Olympics in a row, posting a perfect record of 8-0. But where the women succeeded, the men’s basketball team failed.
On Aug. 15, the men’s team, comprised of NBA superstars such as Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson, Lebron James and Denver Nuggets’ forward Carmelo Anthony, were blown out by Puerto Rico by a score of 73-92. This was the first Olympic loss since 1992, when the United States first started using NBA players in Olympic competition.
The team went on to lose twice more, falling to Lithuania on Aug. 21 by a score of 90-94, then being eliminated from gold and silver medal contention with an 81-89 loss to Argentina on Friday.
Throughout the Olympics, it appeared that U.S. head coach Larry Brown was unwilling to make the adjustments needed to win at the international level. During his NBA championship season this past year with the Detroit Pistons, Brown constantly preached his desire to “play the right way.” But what Brown failed to realize is that when Team USA’s plane landed in Athens, Greece, the definition of “the right way” changed drastically.
The NBA features a style of play in which players often rely on their speed, athleticism and one-on-one playmaking skills to get to the hoop for a layup or dunk. In contrast, the international style of play is a more team-oriented one in which the ball is passed around the perimeter until a player is free for an open shot.
Team USA players failed to guard the perimeter with much effectiveness, allowing opposing team’s to shoot a high percentage from beyond the arc.
On offense, the NBA players never took advantage of their superior athleticism, the one area where the United States had a clear advantage over their international opponents. Brown forced his players to adopt a slowed-down, deliberate style of play, demanding that his players utilize the entire shot clock while passing the ball until a player receives an open shot. This was an unsuccessful attempt by Brown to employ an international style of offense.
Not all of the blame rests on Brown’s shoulders as most of the players on this team had never before played an international style of basketball, and it appeared that they had neither the desire nor the skill set to play this style successfully. So why not counter the international teams’ deliberate halfcourt offense with an up-tempo run-and-gun offense that would fully take advantage of the athleticism of the United States’ players?
Team USA’s bench of James, Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, Dwyane Wade and Shawn Marion seemed tailor-made for a running offense. But from Brown’s perspective, a running offense didn’t appear to be “the right way” to play. Unfortunately for Brown and the entire United States, his “right way” yielded the wrong results as Team USA managed a disappointing bronze medal finish.