As many of you are aware, the United States Men’s Basketball Team recently recaptured the Gold Medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Although this wasn’t an African-American first by any stretch of the imagination (black basketball players winning the Gold Medal), the run up to recapturing the gold and the way it was done is! The 1992 Barcelona, Spain Olympics marked the first time the United States put professional basketball players on the Olympic court. Many of you remember this team by their nickname ‘The Dream Team’, so-called because of the world class players on this team. Some names on this team (and the 1996 team) were Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, etc. Anyone who was familiar with basketball in those days knew this team would win Gold and the only question to be settled in both the 1992 Barcelona Games and 1996 Atlanta Games was who would capture the silver and bronze medals.
U.S.A. Basketball made this move to put pros on the floor after our senior men’s team of Olympics past were college players who weren’t winning gold, while the teams from around the world, who all had professional players from their own countries playing in the Olympics. Charles Barkley made a statement after the 1996 Olympics which made many U.S.A. sports fans upset, he said (and I am paraphrasing here) “Sooner or later, the world is going to catch up with the United States in basketball and we are going to start losing games.” Barkley’s statement proved to be right starting at the 2000 Sydney Games when the U.S.A. didn’t actually lose a basketball game, but came close to losing in the Gold Medal Game.
After those games, an attitude of selfishness started to take hold of many of our best players. Kobe Bryant wouldn’t or couldn’t play due to various injuries (or so he said), Shaquille O’Neal made the excuse that it ‘was time for the younger players to take over’, Kevin Garnett pulled out and the house of cards tumbled from there. From the 2002 World Championships, to the Athens’s Games in 2004, right up until the 2006 World Championships, the U.S.A. Basketball team lost tournaments, embarrassed themselves and the country.
Enter former Phoenix Sun’s owner Jerry Coangelo! Coangelo held a forum to discuss the woes of the program and in attendance were the likes of Michael Jordan, John Thompson and many other legends within the basketball community. They all agreed that the program had to change and Coangelo set about to do that. Without going into all the particulars as I understand them, the Team that was put together was different than ones past where U.S.A. Basketball just put the best players on the floor and expected results. The whole mindset of the program changed and a vision, in my opinion, was put into place that was lacking from all previous Olympics.
It was “Let’s get the right players who will play as a unit, teach them the expectation and hold them accountable to them, get a 3 year commitment before each Olympics from these players, secure the services of the right coach, and anything less than Gold is failure.” Apparently this vision was the right one as the U.S. Men’s team didn’t lose a single game in Beijing, captured the Gold, and after watching the game and its’ finish where they beat Spain, all of the players seemed to be genuinely happy about the win! Kobe Bryant’s demeanor and comment after the game really made me emotional. Not only was he happy and full of joy, he said “I am just excited, we all are.”
This coming from a man that up until recently was seen as selfish! When the team was on the medal stand, I would say there was a net worth of at least $300 million dollars on that medal podium in Beijing. Most of them have endorsement deals worth millions and surely they weren’t getting paid any large sum of $$$ to do this. They did this because ‘The vision was cast’, they bought in, and they believed. Going forward, Mr. Coangelo has to keep that vision fresh because the truth is, at their core, all of these guys main mission was to ‘Bring the Gold Medal back to the U.S.’ This cause was a worthy one, but now that the Gold Medal is back, how does Mr. Coangelo and U.S.A. Basketball keep the momentum? The answer is simple, ‘Keep casting the vision because sometimes, vision, like a bucket with holes in it, leaks!’ Remember the title of this post, ‘Without a vision, the people perish.’