I tried to tell everyone.
The United States have not dominated international basketball for over five years.
Since 2016, USA Basketball has undoubtedly seen a dip from the top pedestal, where they once stood for a good decade. The only major tournament the United States has played in since the last Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, a team that featured Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Kemba Walker, Donovan Mitchell, Marcus Smart, Khris Middleton, Joe Harris, Brook Lopez, Myles Turner, Harrison Barnes, Mason Plumlee, and Derrick White finished 7th at the 2019 FIBA World Cup — a tournament that holds weight on the international stage.
That was no typo. A team that included such NBA talent finished 7th, one spot above Poland and behind the likes of the Czech Republic, Serbia, Australia, France, Argentina, and the deserved winners Spain.
So, how did this happen? Why did the United States perform so poorly with so much talent?
System, arrogance, and a noticeable jump in international competition.
For countries all around the world, international basketball means something. The best players from each country grow up together, eventually go pro together, and, most importantly, play internationally together from ages 15-35, where fans see the same players grow within the game together.
USA Basketball does not build in the same way.
Jerry Colangelo and USA Basketball do not build a foundation around the program — or at least not since 2012.
Every year, USA Basketball phones the best players in the NBA, asks them whether or not they want to participate, builds the American roster out of the best players that accept invitations, and trains for less than a week, taking away any sort of chemistry potentially being carried over from year to year unlike other nations.
Spain, Argentina, Australia, and France — four of the best basketball nations on the world stage — built their programs from the ground up, turned playing internationally into a tradition, and gained a cohesion within their programs the United States hasn’t seen in years.
The same French, Spanish, Argentine, and Australian teams compete and practice together every year, while the United States brings a different roster to each competition under a week’s worth of practice.
Going further, the fact many fans in the United States act as if basketball teams around the world don’t hold legitimate competition to Team USA is a great example of their ignorance.
Look at how many international players have flooded the NBA in the past decade.
Nikola Jokić (MVP winner)
Giannis Antetokounmpo (MVP winner)
Luka Dončić (Rookie of the Year winner
All-Star, and All-NBA member)
Joel Embiid (All-Star and All-NBA member)
Rudy Gobert (Defensive Player of the Year, All-Star, and All-NBA member)
Pascal Siakam (All-Star and All-NBA member)
Nevertheless, people without the NBA community deny the fact of the NBA becoming an international game. While continuing to spew a false narrative of the United States being on another level compared to their international counterparts.
Building off of previous facts, the style of play in FIBA vs the NBA is undeniably another huge factor into why the United States has struggled on the international stage as of late.
NBA vs FIBA
Quite frankly, the NBA and FIBA are heading in two very different directions. FIBA is only becoming more physical, more tolerant of fouls, and more suited for lesser talented players to make an impact on the game. Since the start of the 2010’s, the NBA has adopted a completely different philosophy. Over the last decade, officials undeniably have catered to the offensive players within the NBA. Overall, players in the NBA are seeing more spacing on the floor, more movement, less physicality and paint play . However, above all, NBA players (more specifically stars who are now playing for Team USA) are seeing more foul calls.
FIBA officials are not NBA officials. Players on Team USA — the stars of the NBA — are not receiving the same foul calls on an international stage as they would originally in the states.
Through the first two games of the United States’ exhibition tour their game hasn’t looked great. One of the more evident aspects of their games is their lack of comfort the US players display when handling the ball and driving into the paint.
The Harsh Reality of USA Basketball
In the NBA players such as Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, and Jayson Tatum know that if they dribble themselves into a tough spot they have room to maneuver.
Overseas, these guys are completely battered anytime they touch the ball. This leads to bad shot selection, bad passing, and overall bad decision making. Combine that with the fact the United States lacks any sort of chemistry whatsoever from building a different roster every year while simultaneously playing teams who’ve been together since childhood and you have yourself a complete recipe for disaster.
The United States cannot simply walk into the Tokyo Olympics grab their gold medals, and leave.
The mood around USA Basketball for the past half decade has seemingly run along the lines of “Yah, sure, I’ll play for Team USA.” NBA players do not see playing for the United States as a challenge. They see it as an opportunity to play alongside other star players and have fun.
Unfortunately the days of sitting back, and partaking in a chuckle while the gold medal rests upon the shoulders of the United States’ players are over. On the international stage, the competition has become stronger. The rules have become less favorable for NBA stars. The system in which American players make it to competitions has become inefficient and rather arrogant. Systems must be built, chemistry must be cemented, and players must buy in. Otherwise, the United States will inevitably keep falling within the world rankings.