When the first USA Olympic “Dream Team” of basketball superstars competed on the world stage, the other nations’ players were in awe… and the fans were equally enthused. Basketball fever spread quickly across the globe, prompting kids who had never before been interested to pick up a basketball. Some of those kids are now part of a strong contingent of foreign players competing in the NBA.
Since that initial gold-medal run, the US has tinkered with the formula of who to call up to represent the country on the court at the Olympics. And pros have become a staple part of that recipe. For the pros who are selected, the opportunity to be seen on the world stage is not only an honor but also a prime branding opportunity. Thus, the limited spots remain highly coveted and only open to not only the most talented but also the most marketable players.
At the top of the list is LeBron James, widely considered the best player in the game today, and one of the best all time. If selected, James will be competing in his fourth Olympic Games, along with Kevin Durant and Chris Paul, who would both be in their third, respectively.
While the final roster has not been revealed, many NBA players are among the current pool of 35 being reported. In addition to James, Durant and Paul, players such as Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry and Anthony Davis, among several others, are also being considered for a spot on the team.
There’s still the matter of the US Team making the 2019 World Cup and the 2020 Olympic Games, though most people don’t see that as too much of a hurdle. Given the talent available, the US team is all but a lock, even though international competition has become much, much better. Part of that increase in skill level comes from that influx of foreign NBA players who honed their skills in Europe and other places before coming to the NBA.
The next step in the process for the American hopefuls is to come together at a team mini camp over the summer in Las Vegas. There, many players will begin working with Team USA coach Gregg Popovich for the first time. For many players, the opportunity to play for “Pop” is as big a deal as making the Olympic team. Widely considered one of the best and most successful coaches in NBA history. And for good reason, Popovich has five NBA championships as a coach, and was named coach of the year in the NBA three times.
That’s not to say the US team is any kind of lock. Popovich was an assistant coach on the 2004 US team, that was beaten in a shocker by Argentina, before having to settle for the bronze medal. The most recent US team, in 2016, soundly defeated Argentina, then Spain, before beating Serbia to win gold.
And, when it comes to Team USA men’s basketball on the world stage, gold is the only standard that matters. Anything less, and whoever makes the team will see their star diminished.
Ronn Torossian is a public relations leader with over 20 years of experience