The score of one 2000 Olympic
semifinal match in men's basketball
. This is far and away the closest any "Dream Team
" has ever come to losing an international
game*. A Lithuania
n team led by a former U.S. college
player, Sarunas Jasukevicius
of University of Maryland
, and missing two of its own National Basketball Association
pros (Arvydas Sabonis
and Zydrunas Ilgauskas
), kept the game close throughout the 40 minutes. As time wound down, they traded foul
s with Team USA
(and missed free throw
s on USA fouls, just like the Americans were doing at the other end of the court), and were only beaten after a three-point
try by Jasukevicius failed at the buzzer
s showed that the shot should not have counted even if it had been on target, because the ball was still in the shooter's hand when the clock reached 00.0, but that doesn't change the fact that the opportunity was there.)
Previously, it had been assumed that it would be 2008 at the earliest before any team would be capable of beating an American national basketball team. It is important to note that Lithuania is a strong basketball country, and the USA sent only about half of its ideal "first team," as players like Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant turned down the opportunity to represent the USA in order to rest for the upcoming NBA season, and others like Grant Hill and Tim Duncan were injured and thus unable to play. That doesn't change the fact that the USA produces the vast majority of NBA players, and virtually all of its top players. At this point in the world's basketball development, the USA should have been able to beat anybody else with its second or third team.
That leads to the real key to why this game was so close: defense, or rather, the lack of such** by the U.S. players. This is directly traceable to the NBA's decision to outlaw the zone defense***. The NBA banned zones, requiring the man to man defense, as a way to promote high-scoring games and feature individual stars, rather than forcing emphasis on the team nature of the sport. Zone is probably the most effective defensive style in the game, particularly for players not familiar with each other (they can just concentrate on their zone, rather than having to communicate man assignments), but NBA players hadn't played it since college (or high school, in the case of more than a few players these days who simply skipped college and went straight to the pros). So they couldn't do it, and they looked foolish when they tried, because they simply hadn't practiced it in years. A competitive team that makes no fundamental mistakes will beat a good team with no defense every time; the only reason it didn't happen this time was the brickfest from the free-throw line as the clock wound down.
This policy and the subsequent focus on individuals over teams, more than anything else, is why the NBA is almost certainly the most hated league in professional sports. It can be said, with some truth, that the NBA is barely one step up from the WWF, particularly after the accusations of refereeing bias in recent years ("Knick" Bavetta, and Game 6 of the 2002 Lakers-Kings Western Conference Finals). Now that policy (along with players' lackadaisical attitudes) is seriously endangering the USA's dominance in men's international basketball.
players became eligible to participate in Olympic basketball
in 1992. Even before that, the U.S. had only lost twice in Olympic play, both times to the Soviet Union
, at Munich
1972 in a highly disputed ending, and at Seoul
**Most NBA game scores run in the 100s for at least one team, usually two; NBA games are 48 minutes long, though, while Olympic games are 40 minutes. Therefore, 85-83 in the Olympics translates to roughly 102-100 over the length of game to which a USA pro basketball fan is accustomed.
***The NBA, out of desperation after seeing virtually every play turned into an isolation play with 4 offensive players standing idle on one side of the court, leaving the entire game up to the one-on-one play with the ball, re-introduced the zone for the 2001-02 season.