Back when I was playing professional basketball, I prided myself on the fact that I was a fierce competitor. I gave my best effort in every game. I prepared diligently and respected my opponents. I never quit. I disliked losing and could not tolerate mediocrity. I had, and continue to have, high expectations not only for myself, but others who play in the NBA.
In recent years, I have been sorely disappointed in the United States men’s basketball teams that have represented our country in world championship and Olympic competitions. Our gold-medal finishes have been non-existent and, if anything, our NBA players have come across as spoiled, apathetic and selfish prima donnas with no respect for their opponents. The only problem was that our opponents were kicking our butts. We placed sixth in the 2002 world championships and third in the 2004 Summer
How did this happen? It’s quite easy to explain. We picked stars to represent us in 1992 for the first and only true Dream Team. That worked fine when the stars who were chosen were unquestionably the greatest players in the world. They also understood team play. As the years passed, however, the stars chosen weren’t necessarily team players. We had individuals attempting to win games against vastly improved foreign teams who understood the team concept.
So, with the humbling experiences of recent Olympics and world championships to learn from, USA Basketball has finally gotten it correct. It wisely and bravely scrapped its team selection and training methods and put a new model in place. The selection committee required players to make a three-year commitment to the cause. Further, it selected players who were excited about the chance to represent our country and who had a sincere desire to regain our dominant status in the world of international basketball. But, even more importantly, the committee chose players who can fill roles. They didn’t just go for the big stars.
Of course, there still are some stars on the team, but they are young stars like Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul. Wade, James and Anthony appear ready and willing leaders attempting to redeem themselves after their 2004 Olympic debacle.
The selection of Mike Krzyzewski was also right on the mark. Coach K has the respect of the NBA players and coaches, has international coaching experience and demands that team members play the game the right way — unselfishly and with passion. If the recent thrashings of Puerto Rico and China are any indication of the way this team will compete in the upcoming world championships, there is no doubt in my mind we will return home with the gold.
Former Warriors star and Hall of Famer Rick Barry hosts the noon-3 p.m. talk show on KNBR (680 AM). E-mail him at email@example.com.