|Never before has a team disappointed so much by winning by two-possessions. (Getty Images)|
Guess what? Team USA 2012, missing multiple key players, against an international basketball field that is so different it's incomparable to where it was twenty years ago, is not as good as the Dream Team. If there were any questions about that, Team USA's five-point win vs. Lithuania should be proof of that. You shouldn't need that proof. You should be able to look at the way Team USA was able to domitate the field back then, as Royce Young brilliantly broke down, and understand there was no chance for the U.S. to reach that level, even after the 83-point-win over Nigeria.
You should be able to look at that roster, with strength down low in Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Karl Malone, and Charles Barkley, and then the relative injuries and poor center condition of today's NBA, and know they were better. You should be able to look at how many Hall of Famers there were on that team relative to this team, you should be able to look at the more balanced combination of passers and scorers.
You should be able to look at Michael Jordan, and that's really all you need.
So yes, having to squeak out vs. Lithuania can support your argument if you want it to. If you need to stick your chest out and feel smug about being right that the old guys were better, that today's NBA isn't as good, that no one will ever touch '92, go ahead. This is a good time for it. We'll even overlook how silent those conversations were after the 83-point win. Because you're right. Dream Team never had a game this close.
Competition's better now, in so many ways, and Saturday's game was an excellent showcase of that. Linas Kleiza, a legit NBA player, lead the way and was sensational. They had great floor balance, great ball movement, hit big shots, pushed when they had the opportunity. They never let the game get away from them, even when the U.S. pushed the lead. It was a better team than '92 ever faced, and honestly, it was the best performance of the Olympics for a non-U.S. team.
But given what we know about the Dream Team, they would have simply raised their game that much higher. That's what we have in our heads of them, that's the evidence we have in front of us, and if you needed validation, there you have it. If you're American, it's a little twisted that you're actively rooting against your country's team, but you get to do that here. And that's pretty cool.
But my Eye on Basketball cohorts said something interesting after this game. Ben Golliver and Royce Young noted that so much of this has to do with how much more we know about the modern athletes vs. the Dream Team. Twitter, Facebook, the internet itself gives us so much more insight, analysis and commentary (a large amount of it on this here blog) on these players that there's no chance for mythology.
In our heads, while LeBron was on Twitter for an hour, M.J. was in the gym for an hour.
Heroes are more fun than Instagram, as Golliver said.
So we've built the Dream Team to a level they can never be touched, and then feel comfy in a blanket of smug revisitonist history, free of context or debate. We even lose sight of what the current Team USA players said, which is not that they were better, but that they could take a few games in a series with '92. But today, that's going to fall silent. Becasue a very good Lithuanian team managed to only lose by five, when it was nine with 45 seconds to go.
Winning is no longer enough.
In truth, nothing is enough, anymore. Not after the legend, not after the heroes, not after the Dream Team.
So Team USA will just have to live with being undefeated in group play, having faced what could very well be their toughest test, and remaining the prohibitive favorites to win the gold medal in the 2012 Olympics in men's basketball.