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On This Date in Sports August 27, 2004: The Nightmare Team

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Team USA’s Olympic basketball domination comes to an end, as they are beaten by Argentina 89-81 in the semifinals at the games in Athens. The Americans again sent their professionals but this version of the Dream Team was more of a nightmare, as several top players were unable to play, while selfish play from Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury become the hallmark as they settled for a Bronze Medal.

Before Team USA even arrived in Athens, there were signs of trouble. The roster was not made up of the NBA’s top players, as several big named stars withdrew from the team for a variety of reasons. Mike Bibby and Tracy McGrady, both stated security issues, with these being the first Summer Olympics after 9/11. Injuries also played a factor as Jason Kidd had off-season knee surgery. Shaquille O’Neal and Ben Wallace cited fatigue as their reason for not playing, while personal issues forced Vince Carter, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen to miss the games.

While each player gave different reasons for withdrawing some may have centered around the choice of Larry Brown as the team’s coach. Brown was known for rigid rules and had rubbed several players the wrong way, as he often preached loyalty and hard work, while always seeming to be looking for the next job.

Overall, the team that Brown was to coach in Athens was extraordinarily young. Eight of the twelve players on the roster were 22 or younger, including a 19-year-old LeBron James coming off his first season in the NBA. While Tim Duncan was chosen team captain, the team took on much of the personality and swagger of Allen Iverson as they stayed on the Queen Mary II and away from the Olympic Village, creating a wall around themselves and the Olympic experience.

Even before the game, there were signs of trouble as Team USA lost its final tune-up to Italy 95-87. When the games began, things did not get better as they lost opening game to Puerto Rico 92-73. Before the 2004 Olympics, the only two losses that the USA Men’s Basketball team had suffered were to the Soviet Union in the 1972 Gold Medal Game and the 1988 Olympic Semifinals. This was the first time that Team USA had lost a prelim round game in the Olympics, as the team gave a sloppy uninspired performance, while Carlos Arroyo scored a game-high 24 points for Puerto Rico.

The United States would not play much better in their second game, as they need a late surge to beat host nation Greece 77-71. Team USA began to show signs of improvement, beating Australia 89-79 in the third game as they got a big effort from Tim Duncan who led the way with 18 points and 11 rebounds. However, they suffered a second setback when they were defeated by Lithuania 94-90 as Sarunas Jasikevicius scored 28 points. It was the first time in Olympic history that the USA Men’s Basketball team lost twice. They would end the preliminary round at 3-2 falling an 89-53 cakewalk win over cupcake Angola.

The stakes were raised in the medal round, as Team USA faced leaving the games without a medal as they faced, Spain who went through play in Group B unbeaten in five games. Allen Iverson had the best game of the tournament in that quarterfinal game, scoring 31 points as Team USA won the game 102-94, overcoming a 29-point game from Pau Gasol.

After looking like a Gold Medal team in their game against Spain, Team USA reverted back to the sloppy selfish play that was the hallmark of their Athens experience. Argentina outhustled and outplayed the Americans all night, as Manu Ginobili led the way with 29 points as Argentina won the game 89-81. In a rematch against Lithuania, Team USA salvaged what little pride they had left to win a Bronze Medal 104-96 as Shawn Marion scored 22 to lead way.

Argentina would go on to win the Gold Medal in Basketball, beating Italy 84-69 as Luis Scola had a monster game with 25 points and 11 rebounds, while Ginobili had 16 points, with six rebounds and six assists. It was the first basketball medal of any type for Argentina at the Olympics leading through widespread celebrations throughout the South American Nation.

After their embarrassing show, USA Basketball changed how the players were selected, looking more for team players that worked together rather than stacking star players. With this renewed focus and energy, Team USA calling itself the Redeem Team won the Gold Medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing with Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski leading the way as Allen Iverson was not even invited to try out for the team, following the meltdown in Greece. Team USA has not lost an Olympic Basketball game since that embarrassing showing in 2004, when they went 5-3, suffering more losses than all the other Olympic games combined.