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Team USA clinched its worst-ever finish in a major tournament this week when it dropped to at-best seventh place in the 2019 FIBA World Cup. It failed to medal for the first time since 2002, where it was sixth.
The men’s national team came into the tournament as two-time defending champions, with a 58-game tournament winning streak dating back to 2008. It also came in as a completely different team than the initial roster suggested following a long list of NBA stars and experienced Team USA players backing out ahead of camp.
Kobe Bryant, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, said he doesn’t see who wasn’t there as the issue for the U.S. It’s about how the rest of the world has improved to the country’s level.
Bryant: Rest of world caught up to USA
Bryant is in China for the FIBA World Cup finals between Spain and Argentina this weekend as an ambassador. He told reporters Team USA should get used to losing.
“It’s not a matter of the rest of the world catching up to the U.S. The rest of the world has been caught up for quite some time. It’s to the point where us in the U.S. are going to win some, going to lose some. There’s just great basketball being played. Whether it’s Redeem [team] two, no matter what team it is, it’s not going to be easy.”
Bryant delivered a gold medal in 2008 as part of the “Redeem Team” after a string of disappointing finishes. It began the 58-game streak that ended with the U.S. loss to France this week. The former Los Angeles Lakers star never lost a game with Team USA.
‘Days of 1992 Dream Team are gone’
Bryant doesn’t think a roster sans headliners such as LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard and any of the Golden State Warriors stars had anything to do with the team’s disappointing finish.
He recounted the 2008 final against Spain, with a Redeem Team of Bryant, James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Chris Paul and Jason Kidd. Team USA led by only two at one point in the fourth quarter and had to pull away in the closing minutes to win, 118-107.
"You have to remember, on the Redeem Team we needed a hell of a fourth quarter to beat Spain. That was a hell of a team we had. We still needed a real late push to beat Spain in that gold-medal match. So I say that to say put the best players that you think are going to make the best U.S. team out on the floor, we are still going to have challenges.
“It's not going to be a cakewalk. The days of the '92 Barcelona Dream Team are gone. They're over, so it's going to be tough."
Team USA will play Poland in the seventh-place game on Saturday. The next major tournament is the 2020 Tokyo Olympics next summer, where the U.S. will go for a fourth consecutive gold. NBA superstars who did not participate in the World Cup have said they’d like to play for the Olympics.
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