Friday, July 12, 2024

USA Basketball’s Gold Standard: Tyrese Haliburton, NBA stars embrace win-or-fail challenge Olympics present | Sporting News Australia

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There are tougher jobs than playing for a USA Basketball men’s team in world competition. Brain surgery, for instance. Defeat in that venue has far greater consequences than it does for the U.S. men in the Olympic Games.

The standard is somewhat the same, though: There is only perfection and failure.

Speaking in 2019 with the New York Times, Larry Brown said, “I still haven’t gotten over” losing three times and falling short of a gold medal in the 2004 Olympics. After cutting Steve Kerr, Sean Elliott, Rex Chapman and Mark Macon and struggling to score in a 1988 semifinal loss to the Soviet Union, John Thompson said, “The people that we have, we made the decision to take.” As FIBA unconscionably gave the Soviets three chances to inbound the ball after Doug Collins appeared to have clinched victory for the U.S. in the 1972 gold medal game, coach Hank Iba refused the suggestions from staff members to pull his team off the floor. “I don’t want to lose this game later tonight, sitting on my butt,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

There they are: Three of the greatest coaches in the history of the game. Brown is the only man to coach champions in both the NBA and NCAA. Thompson is the first Black coach to win the NCAA Division I title. Iba was the first ever to win NCAA championships in consecutive years. And for each of them, regardless of all they accomplished, an American loss at the Olympics remains a stain on each of their resumes.

Why would any coach want to step into such a thankless position?

And why would any player sign up to play?

“How can you not? How can you not want to do this?” Indiana Pacers point guard Tyrese Haliburton told The Sporting News. “We watched our role models and guys that we looked up to represent USA Basketball, and I knew I wanted to be a part of that. Because people that I looked up to were part of that, and people they looked up to were part of that.

“I think that’s the great part about USA Basketball is you’re right: There is a gold standard. Especially in the United States, it’s gold medal or you fail. But I think that pressure is good for us. That pressure is exciting.”

MORE: LeBron James, Kevin Durant headline Team USA roster for 2024 Paris Olympics

When does USA Basketball open training?

The USA Basketball men’s Olympic team began gathering in Las Vegas July 5 for a four-day training camp in advance of the first exhibition game, July 10 against Canada (FS1, 10:30 p.m. ET). The team will remain together in advance of the July 28 Group C opener, with two exhibition games scheduled for each of Abu Dhabi and London.

Before Haliburton, Anthony Edwards and Jayson Tatum, there was the Redeem Team of LeBron, CP3 and Kobe. Before them, there was the Dream Team of MJ, Magic and Bird. And before all that, there were two sets of collegians whose mission was to retrieve the gold medal that had been forfeited (Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin in 1984, following the 1980 boycott of the Moscow Games) or stolen (Phil Ford, Adrian Dantley and Scott May, after the debacle of 1972). And before them there was the transcendent 1960 group featuring icons Oscar Robertson, Jerry Lucas and Jerry West, who won their eight Olympic games by a composite 339 points and went on to transform the way the sport was played at the NBA level.

MORE: Full schedule for men’s, women’s USA Olympic teams

Every one of those players understood the mission, and the consequences. It was a little like what Tatum faced in the most recent NBA playoffs. For the Boston Celtics to fall short of a championship after they’d won 64 regular-season games, and after they’d reached the conference finals in three of the previous four seasons, would have been adjudicated as a colossal failure. With the Olympics, though, the wait to try again is four years.

It was different for Haliburton. The Pacers hadn’t been in the playoffs since 2020, and this was his first full season with the team. Reaching the Eastern Conference finals was an impressive step for the team, and he was a huge reason for the advance. Although there was significant disappointment in their inability to take their best shot – Haliburton injured his hamstring in Game 2 against the Celtics and didn’t return to the series – the Pacers accomplished a lot.

“We’re all competitors. We all want to win. I think there are some guys on our team who – they deal with that every postseason, as well,” Haliburton said. “I think that’s just a part of public perception and a part of us as competitors. I wanted to be a part of that.”

How dominant has USA been at Olympics?

The men’s basketball competition has been staged at the Olympics 20 times, at every games since 1936. The United States has won 16 of those, or 80 percent. They failed to medal just once – because their nation boycotted the 1980 Games in Moscow. They have played 149 total games over the years. They’ve lost six times. That’s a .960 winning percentage established over nearly a century.

They’ve won the past four Olympic gold medals.

“This is a unique experience,” USA head coach Steve Kerr told reporters. “The NBA season is a marathon, and FIBA is really more of a sprint – especially for Team USA. We generally have a different team every summer, whereas a lot of the teams that we’re playing against have the continuity that comes with having a very similar roster year after year.

“Our strength is the depth of talent that we have in this country … We have to try to mold the team quickly, and that comes via practice but also with travel and bonding, with the experience of flying overseas and playing in different venues, different cultures.”

MORE: Anthony Edwards call himself ‘No. 1 option’ for Team USA

The strength of USA Basketball since 2005, since former Suns owner and USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo recruited Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski to rejuvenate the senior men’s program, has been getting the best to participate. Kevin Durant already owns three gold medals. LeBron James has two. Anthony Davis, Devin Booker and Tatum have one each.

They’re back again, though, and taking on what could be viewed as thankless challenge is to be admired.

“I think winning the gold medal is the top of the sport – that and the NBA Championship,” Haliburton said. “I don’t think anything you can do individually can trump those. We play this game to win.”

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