The 2014 FIBA World Cup is scheduled to begin Saturday, and I'm intrigued to see how this young USA Basketball squad will perform. With Paul George out due to injury and Kevin Durant withdrawing from the competition because of "mental and physical fatigue," this is a largely unproven bunch of talented young players who will get their chance to shine on the world stage.
This is what the FIBA World Cup has become for America's best basketball players. It's a time for the best of the best to step aside and allow the second wave of stars get their chance while hopefully not making USA Basketball look bad in the process. That last part is important, because until just four years ago when Durant led his 2010 squad to victory in Turkey, it'd been 16 years since the red, white and blue brought the FIBA gold back home.
2014 FIBA World Cup
Everything you need to know about the tournament
Team USA is the clear favorite, but a slew of other contenders led by host nation Spain will pose stiff challenges at the 2014 FIBA World Cup. Read on for team-by-team previews, a schedule of games and much more.
2014 FIBA World Cup
That 1994 USA team, otherwise known as Dream Team II, should go down in history as one of the greatest collections of basketball talent ever ... except it's forgotten because it operated in the shadow of the greatest collection of basketball talent ever.
Dream Team II was not only given the insurmountable task of following Dream Team I, but also was being asked to do it on their relative home soil, as the '94 FIBA World Championships were just up the road in Toronto. This roster featured a handful of older players like 31-year-old Joe Dumars, 30-year-old Mark Price and 34-year-old Dominique Wilkins, the senior citizen of the group. Everyone else was under 28, most notably Shaquille O'Neal, who at 22 was the "kid" to everyone else.
This was Dream Team II, and they were the exact opposite of their predecessors.
While the original roster from the 1992 Olympics was seen as a group of subdued legends, the 1994 FIBA World Championship roster was brash, cocky and rambunctious. Guys like Reggie Miller, Shawn Kemp, Larry Johnson, Derrick Coleman and Shaq were not here for shaking hands and kissing babies. They were talking crazy, dunking on people, grabbing their nuts after big plays and generally doing whatever they wanted. This was the anti-Dream Team -- outside of Charles Barkley, at least. SLAM's Russ Bengston explains.
This is Dream Team II’s enduring legacy, and it was well-earned. Watching the games now, with the chest-bumping and chest-thumping and yelling and dunks after the whistle and arguments with the refs and glares at opponents, it’s readily apparent. It didn’t help that those opponents were a far cry from what they are now—most teams were filled with anonymous highlight-reel fodder. But it’s equally difficult to imagine that the Team USA selection committee—which Nelson played no role in—didn’t know what they were doing. Were they expecting a team composed of Miller, Kemp, Larry Johnson, Mourning, Coleman and O’Neal to be model citizens? To not only win, but win with dignity?
For some, this was a major turn-off. Many wondered why they couldn't win with grace like the '92 team. But for a select few like myself, they were even more beloved. Dunk on 'em again Shaq, I yelled. In another way, they were just as American as that '92 team, even if folks didn't like it.
Let's be clear about Dream Team II: they kicked everyone's butt in the World Championships. They won their eight games by an average of 36.5 points and could have easily run the score up even more. No international side had any answer for Shaq, and he came off the bench. Because Nellie loved to push the pace, guys like Mark Price and Kevin Johnson always found the open man, either on the fast break or in half-court situations. Guys like Dan Majerle, Miller and Steve Smith laughed at that puny FIBA 3-point line by launching 25-footers at will. They played Nellie-ball on steroids and it was glorious to watch.
Team USA went 6-0 in their two group stages of the tournament, laying teams from China, Spain, Brazil, Russia, Australia and Puerto Rico to waste. The semifinal game versus Greece was a cakewalk, and a potential rematch between USA and Croatia (featuring NBA standouts Toni Kukoc and Dino Radja) was spoiled by the Russian upset in the other semifinal. In the gold medal game, Team USA made their first 10 shots, with the ever-classy Joe Dumars leading the way by making long threes and pull-up jumpers. It was 42-17 before Nelson finally decided to bring in Shaq.
The final score was 137-91, but it wasn't even that close. It was as if Dream Team II needed to remind the world that while they were having a ton of fun in Toronto, when it came down to business, they meant business.
It's hard to fathom now, but that 1994 team gave Team USA its first FIBA World Championship win since 1986 and they wouldn't win another one until Kevin Durant's 2010 squad won in Turkey. Also, Dream Team II would go undefeated in the tournament, something Team USA hadn't done since 1954. They were imperfectly perfect, a team only America should truly love, even if many didn't.
All hail Dream Team II.
Happy Hour drink recommendation: Caesar. Evidently this is Canada's favorite cocktail, made up of vodka, Clamato, hot sauce and Worcestershire sauce. It's served over ice in celery salt-rimmed glass, typically garnished with a stalk of celery and a wedge of lime. This is something I'd never drink. But 20 years ago Team USA dominated in Canada, so I can imagine Dan Majerle knocking a few of these back.
Have a great weekend, everybody. Enjoy.