NEW YORK: The 20th anniversary of the U.S. “Dream Team” could coincide with a dream tournament in what looms as a fiercely competitive basketball competition at the London Olympics.
The awe-inspiring collection of NBA stars including Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird who romped to gold at the 1992 Barcelona Games ignited a global growth in the game that brought a wave of international talent into the NBA that has powered national teams at the Olympics.
The London stage could be set for a rousing revival of the Beijing gold medal game with LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant leading the defending champion U.S. team, while 2008 silver medalists Spain bring a towering front court of brothers Pau and Marc Gasol and premier shot-blocker Serge Ibaka.
Argentina, France and Brazil, three other teams armed with serious NBA firepower, are also confident they will be fighting for position on the podium in the 12-team tournament.
“Between those five teams, we’ll see,” France forward Nicolas Batum, who plays for the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers, told Reuters.
The main contenders have already had to deal with injuries that will test their depth and perseverance.
The U.S. squad lost a slew of candidates that read like an All-Star list with Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls, Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic, and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh of the NBA champion Miami Heat among those ruled out due to injury.
A pool of 22 players shrank to 15, but no one will be crying for the American team, which will be led by James, who used his defensive prowess and power to lead the Heat over the Thunder in the NBA Finals for his long-awaited championship.
Also joining James are Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook and James Harden, the Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams of the Nets, and the Clippers’ Blake Griffin and Chris Paul.
Those are plenty of talented scorers, but the absence of Howard, Bosh and LaMarcus Aldridge of Portland leaves New York’s Tyson Chandler and Minnesota’s Kevin Love as the only centers and could make the U.S. vulnerable.
Spain would have a size advantage, able to play Lakers’ 2.13-meter Pau Gasol alongside his 2.16-meter younger brother Marc Gasol of the Grizzlies, and 2.08-meter Ibaka, another member of the NBA finalist Thunder.
Slowing down the Spanish offense, however, will be the absence of playmaking guard Ricky Rubio of the Timberwolves, who is sidelined with an ACL injury, leaving Jose Manuel Calderon of the Raptors at point guard.
“My teammates and I will fight for the gold medal,” Pau Gasol told reporters. “We’re afraid of no one.”
France is up in the air about the availability of court leader Tony Parker, a three-time NBA champion with San Antonio who injured his eye last month in a Manhattan nightclub fracas and will be without Bulls’ big man Joakim Noah (ankle injury).
Parker will have to get doctors’ approval before joining compatriots and fellow NBA players such as Batum, Ronny Turiaf (Heat) and Spurs teammate Boris Diaw.
Argentina, 2004 Athens Olympic champions and Beijing bronze medalists, are led by Spurs’ Manu Ginobili and Luis Scola of the Rockets. Brazil boasts a strong post presence with Nene of the Wizards and Anderson Varejao of the Cavaliers along with Pacers’ guard Leandro Barbosa.
Even Great Britain could have a touch of the NBA on their team with Luol Deng of the Bulls a potential player for the hosts.
“I think the Dream Team was single-handedly responsible for all of the global and international growth that we’ve had in the game of basketball and that is a tremendous compliment to that team,” Dream Team member Clyde “The Glide” Drexler said.