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Today in Sports History: August 27th

8/27/2004 - America loses in basketball

Going into the 2004 Athens Olympics, the United States men's basketball team had lost just two games in 68 years of Olympic competition. Both losses come against the Soviet Union, and one was excusable because the refs gave the Russians three chances to score the winning basket.

Yet it had grown more and more apparent that the rest of the world was catching up. The US finished a dismal sixth at the 2002 World Basketball Championship, fielding a team that had barely any top-caliber players.

The 2004 Athens team wasn't much better. Many All-Stars stayed home instead of participating, citing security concerns or wanting to use the time to rest. Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Tracy McGrady, Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, and Ben Wallace were all absent from the Athens roster.

In their place, a hastily thrown together mix of youngsters and role players represented the United States. LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwyane Wade were all there -- though they had just come off their rookie campaigns and weren't as polished as the other players. Coach Larry Brown, who was always resistant to playing rookies, used those three scarcely. The rest of the roster was filled with players who had yet to evolve into All-Stars such as Carlos Boozer, Emeka Okafor, and Amare Stoudemire, and pretty solid players in Richard Jefferson, Lamar Odom, Stephen Marbury and Shawn Marion. The only athletes who could be legitimately considered superstars were Allen Iverson and Tim Duncan, the two players who had won an MVP trophy.

The U.S. got roughed up as soon as the tournament began. In its first game, America lost by 21 to a Puerto Rican team that had only one active NBA player: Carlos Arroyo. The squad would lose a close game to Lithuania a few days later, but won its next two games to advance to the Semifinal round. It was there that they met Argentina, the same country that first defeated them in the most recent World Basketball Championship.

On Aug. 27, 2004, the US once again lost to Argentina, 89-81. For the very first time, the United States failed to win the gold medal in basketball with a roster comprised of NBA players. Argentina had seven current or future NBA players on their team, the best of whom was Manu Ginobili who scored a game-high 29 points. America finished with the bronze medal while Argentina collected the gold.

The moral of the Athens Olympics was that the United States could no longer assemble a group of second-rate players and guarantee that they would collect the gold. The other countries were playing together for years at a time while America's teams were thrown together last-second and had little time to gel.

The United States lost more games in the 2004 Olympics than they did in the previous 68 years combined. Vowing not to repeat such a lackluster performance, the U.S. team began planning for the '08 Olympics three years in advance. With better players signed on and a much greater resolve, the U.S. team won every game at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, proving that USA was still the king of basketball.