By Cam Smith ’21
Sports Assistant Editor
The United States, long the dominant force in basketball, saw its empire come crashing down earlier this month when its delegation of players placed seventh at the 2019 Basketball World Cup. The loss was a source of embarrassment nationwide, as millions ridiculed the U.S. players for failing to live up to the lofty standards set by the teams that had preceded them.
Team USA was not without excuses, as nearly all of its premiere stars were absent for the tournament, including studs like Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, and James Harden. They cited the tournament’s proximity to the start of National Basketball Association training camp and their subsequent desire to pursue an NBA championship as the reasons for their no-shows.
Nevertheless, Team USA entered the World Cup with high expectations. The team was still ranked number one in the world and was headed by two all-stars in Kemba Walker and Khris Middleton. So too did the roster boast an abundance of young talent in players like Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, Myles Turner, and Jaylen Brown.
As promising as the team may have seemed, something never quite clicked chemistry-wise, and the squad struggled to remain undefeated in the group stages. Their entrance into the quarterfinals was immediately met with defeat, as the French National Team controlled all facets of the match en route to an 89-79 victory. The disappointment was immeasurable, and the uproar back in the states was thunderous.
Yet, perhaps this result is not so much a commentary on the failures of USA basketball, but a reflection of the newfound success of basketball internationally. In the 1991–92 NBA season, the league featured just 26 players born outside of the United States. In comparison, the 2018–19 NBA season saw a whopping 118 foreign-born players participate, which was nearly a quarter of the league’s player population.
These international players were not only playing in the league but dominating in it as well. Four of the five major NBA 2018 – 2019 awards went to international players, including the MVP award, received by the Greece-born Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Defensive Player of the Year award went to the Frenchman Rudy Gobert, the very same player that stonewalled the U.S. in their quarterfinal loss.
The NBA is partially responsible for this international influx of talent, as the league’s global outreach programs have brought basketball to locations never before frequented by the sport. This expansion has afforded young kids in various countries exposure to a sport once considered strictly American.
So before one mourns the apparent sudden death of U.S. basketball, they must come to terms with the fact that Team USA is not falling behind—the world is simply catching up.