Any thoughts that the 'Dream Team’ might go easy on their opponents at London 2012 were quickly dispelled yesterday when USA Basketball announced what even their own head coach, Mike Krzyzewski, described as an “extraordinary” squad who collectively draw annual salaries worth around £160 million.
Krzyzewski, who needed to announce his squad this week so they can all go on an International Olympic Committee-approved drug testing programme, named a 20-man roster including 10 players who steamrollered their way to the World Championships in 2010 and a further eight who took the US to the 2008 Olympic title. Rarely, if ever, has there been such a comprehensive gathering of the finest players from the world’s strongest basketball nation.
All the NBA’s biggest American names are included, headed up by Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, Olympic gold medallists together in Beijing, while Chicago Bulls’ phenomenal guard Derrick Rose, points machine Kevin Durant and centre Kevin Love – nephew of Beach Boys singer Mike Love – spearheaded the new generation who took the world title so impressively two years ago.
Since the Olympics went 'open’ in Barcelona in 1992 the top American players in the NBA have normally restricted themselves to playing in just one Olympics before giving way to the next wave of top players.
Contractual disputes with clubs were also an issue, with some owners reluctant to see their prime investments playing after an exhausting domestic season, but that scenario has changed in recent years.
After finishing out of the medals at the 2002 World Championships and winning just a bronze in Athens in 2004, US attitudes hardened and their sporting public demanded that they send the strongest available team to every Olympics. Since 2006 Krzyzewski has coached the national team to an impressive 48-1 record.
“It’s an exciting day to have these 20 men commit to selfless service for their team,” says Krzyzewski, who coached both the 2008 Olympic and 2010 World Championship teams. “We have a roster full of champions, people who are excited to play for the USA. They are not playing for us, they are us. This will be the most talented of the teams I have coached, it is an extraordinary talent pool.”
The fledgling Great Britain team will get an early chance to tackle the Dream Team, for the first time ever, in a warm-up friendly at the MEN arena in Manchester on July 19. The gulf between the two squads will be enormous, not least financially. The leading lights in the Dream Team – Bryant and James – will probably be the highest-paid sportsmen competing in London.
Bryant’s basic wage at the LA Lakers is £16.6 million and will rise to over £19.6 million in two years’ time. Britain’s NBA star, Luol Deng, might earn a third of Bryant’s basic salary but most of the GB squad will scarcely earn one per cent of that.
“We always expected the USA to turn up with all their big guns and its great for the sport and the Olympics,” says Chris Spice, performance director of GB Basketball.
"When the USA pick their full side the entire tournament goes to another dimension in terms of quality and worldwide interest. Luckily they can only put five players on the court at any one time, like any other team.
"The Dream Team 2012 will bring a huge amount to the Olympic environment in 2012. These are not just the best basketball players in the world they are among the very best athletes. In the USA they are the best-paid athletes of all and that, ableit in a crude commercial way, is still a pretty accurate measure as to their standing in the sporting community.
From the quarter-finals onwards the basketball will based at the O2 where a number of the players, including Bryant, have already played and reported themselves delighted with the facility.
"The fans in London have shown they are pretty passionate and it should be great tournament," says Bryant. "I had a ball in Beijing, it was a wonderful sporting experience and I had just had to put my hand up for London. It wasn't just winning a gold medal that was good but mixing with so many great athletes from so many sports was special."
THREE TO FOLLOW
KOBE BRYANT (LA Lakers): Currently going through a painful and costly divorce but four consecutive 40 point games this month would suggest there is little wrong with his game. Nine times an NBA All-Star, five times an NBA winner with the Lakers and the NBA MVP in 2008.
Basic salary: £16.5m
Marital status: Getting divorced from Vanessa
DERRICK ROSE (Chicago Bulls): The new superstar of the NBA, Rose is just 23 but has breathed new life into the Bulls who have been slumbering since the days of Michael Jordan. Incredibly dynamic, seems to have re-defined what constitutes a lay-up.
Basic salary: £12.2m
Marital status: Single
LEBRON JAMES (Miami Heat): World class athlete and points machine who has twice been voted the NBA MVP: Suffered disappointment with a bronze medal in 2004 but starred in the 'Redeem Team' of 2008 and wants more of the Olympic action.
Basic salary: £10.4m
Marital status: Married to Savannah
Team USA Olympic basketball squad: LaMarcus Aldridge (Portland Trail Blazers); Carmelo Anthony (New York Knicks); Chauncey Billups (Los Angeles Clippers); Chris Bosh (Miami Heat); Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers); Tyson Chandler (New York Knicks); Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder); Rudy Gay (Memphis Grizzlies); Eric Gordon (New Orleans Hornets); Blake Griffin (Los Angeles Clippers); Dwight Howard (Orlando Magic); Andre Iguodala (Philadelphia 76ers); LeBron James (Miami Heat); Kevin Love (Minnesota Timberwolves); Lamar Odom (Dallas Mavericks); Chris Paul (Los Angeles Clippers); Derrick Rose (Chicago Bulls); Dwyane Wade (Miami Heat); Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder); and Deron Williams (New Jersey Nets).
By Brendan Gallagher