How USA and their NBA stars reclaimed Olympic men's basketball glory at Beijing 2008
After the U.S. team's elimination at the hands of Argentina's Golden Generation in the semi-finals at Athens 2004, Duke Blue Devils head coach Mike Krzyzewski, aka Coach K, was put in charge of an American squad aiming to return to the top of their sport in China. With Kobe Bryant captaining a team that featured legends like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, USA regained their Olympic crown in spectacular fashion.
“You can’t be afraid to fail. It’s the only way you succeed. You’re not gonna succeed all the time and I know that.”
Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Scottie Pippen, Larry Bird, and Charles Barkley were among the stars of that '92 U.S. squad, considered one of the most talented sports teams in history. They won gold in dominant style.
That aura of invincibility was destroyed at Athens 2004 where, after suffering group play defeats to Puerto Rico and Lithuania, USA lost to Argentina's 'Golden Generation' in the semi-finals. It was the first time a U.S. team featuring NBA players had failed to claim gold at an Olympics. They went on to win a rematch against Lithuania to take the bronze medals, but the era of American dominance was over.
“When you lose a basketball game as the USA team - it's very embarrassing.”
After the Athens debacle, the USA men's basketball team found themselves in a void. Mike Krzyzewski, who had also been assistant coach for the Dream Team during Barcelona 92, took the helm of the team as it tried to claim a first global success since Sydney 2000. His first major tournament, the 2006 World Championships, only yielded a bronze medal with the star-studded squad going down to Greece in the semi-finals.
However, two years later, a team captained by Kobe Bryant stepped on the court of the Wukesong Indoor Stadium in Beijing to face the host country China.
That was the beginning of the journey for these 12 athletes, who would write a golden chapter in the Olympic history books, and were given a memorable nickname: The Redeem Team.
“It was amazing. Just being able to wear the USA shirt, just to be a part of that whole Olympic vibe... it was a dream come true.”
Standing between Team USA and redemption in the final were a Spain team came close to repeating the feat of the Golden Generation. Pau Gasol, Rudy Fernandez, and Ricky Rubio were members of a squad that carved a name in Basketball history and became Spanish legends of the sport.