The 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, start August 5 and that means the greatest athletes in the entire world will be gathering together in South America to compete for a chance at sports immortality (and possibly contract the Zika virus, but DO NOT FOCUS ON THAT!). One of the premiere events of the Olympic Games is the basketball tournament, where squads from all over the world, many of them featuring NBA caliber talent, will attempt to secure a gold medal for their homeland. However, that's not likely, because history is firmly in the corner of the United States when it comes to Olympic basketball.
Ever since 1992, when the ban that prevented professional basketball players from representing their countries was lifted, the United States Men's National Team has only ever lost out on one gold medal, in 2004. Aside from that one embarrassing misstep, the National Team has been steeped in history. The Dream Team (1992), the Dream Team III (1996), and the Retribution Team (2008), among others, have all dominated their opponents on the court and brought the gold back to the good ol' US of A. In fact, the Dream Team was actually inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010. So, with that glory in mind, the following 15 players are among the best and worst to ever compete for the United States in the Olympic basketball tournament.
29 Best - Carmelo Anthony
From his days at Syracuse to his professional career with the Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks, Carmelo Anthony has had a perplexing, roller coaster of a career, and the strangest part of it may be his tenure with the Men's National Team. Melo has played in three, soon to be four, Olympic tournaments and he may very well be the greatest player in U.S. national play. He won a bronze medal with the team in 2004, then two gold medals in 2008 and 2012. Having accepted his invitation to play for the team in the 2016 Rio Games, he may very well earn his third gold medal. He's also the only player in history to play for four different Olympic squads. In the 2012 Olympics, Melo set the Olympic records for shots made and attempted in a single game when he shot 10 for 12 behind the arc, scoring 37 points, also an Olympic record. Even though he's had an (unfairly) maligned career, it's difficult to ignore Melo's résumé as one of the greatest to ever represent the United States in the Olympic Games.
27 Worst - Amar'e Stoudemire
Amar'e Stoudemire is one of the biggest "What if?" players in NBA history. He was an absolute superstar on Mike D'Antoni's "Seven Seconds or Less" Phoenix Suns, working as Steve Nash's wingman and the team's primary offensive threat. On multiple occasions, he went up against Tim Duncan in the playoffs and outplayed the greatest power forward to ever walk the Earth. He was even excellent in his first season with the New York Knicks. Then injuries caught up with him and he hasn't been the same since. No one knows what might have been if his body had held up, but what's not up for question was that he was awful in the Olympics. STAT played for the squad in 2004 (THAT TEAM!) and averaged 2.8 points and 1.8 rebounds a game, despite playing in every single game. This is especially shocking considering he was coming off a sophomore season where he averaged 20.6 points and 9 rebounds a game.
25 Best - Charles Barkley
Everybody knows Charles Barkley. He's a weird character. He's known for his sense of humor, litany of occasionally absurd quotes, and struggles with weight loss and gambling. Today, he's one of the hosts on "Inside the NBA", the best basketball show on TV (Maybe ever). However, as a player for the Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns (Pretend he was never on the Houston Rockets), Chuck was a deadly scorer and a prolific rebounder, despite only being 6'6", barely shooting guard height in today's NBA. He was also a member of The Dream Team in 1992, playing alongside legends like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, as well as long time rival Michael Jordan. He averaged 18 points and 6.6 rebounds a game in 1992, actually leading the team in scoring, despite the presence of His Airness. He also won a gold medal with The Dream Team III in 1996 as the team's second leading scorer with 12.4 points a game.
23 Worst - Christian Laettner
The first Dream Team was stocked with some of the greatest players in the association to ensure that the United States not only won gold, but completely dominated along the way. That's why Christian Laettner's inclusion is still confusing to this day. Christian Laettner was the superstar college player that has led Duke to two straight National Championships. He was the most prolific player in the NCAA at the time, but no one expected him to excel as a pro. However, Shaquille O'Neal, then playing at Louisiana State, was hailed as the next great big man in NBA (Which he absolutely was). If a spot HAD to go to a college player, it should have belonged to Shaq. However, it went to Laettner, and while his inclusion didn't hurt the team, it didn't help, either. He only averaged 4.8 points and 2.5 rebounds a game, despite playing in every game.
21 Best - David Robinson
David Robinson is an American hero. He was drafted first overall in 1987 out of the Naval Academy, but didn't play professionally until 1989, after he had completed 2 years of Naval service. However, he was still allowed to serve his country in another way, in the 1988 Olympics (Cheating again, but you tell David Robinson he can't have this). He averaged 12.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks a game on route to the gold medal. As a professional, he also played in the 1992 and 1994 Olympic tournaments. On the Dream Team, he split time as the primary center with Patrick Ewing, but still managed to average 9 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.8 steals a game, and in 1996, on the Dream Team III, he averaged 12.8 points and 4.6 rebounds a game, the only player on the team to surpass 100 total points throughout the entire tournament. To this day, the Admiral's the only player to have won 3 Olympic gold medals, let alone consecutively, unless Carmelo Anthony manages to achieve that this summer.
19 Worst - Emeka Okafor
The 2004 U.S. Men's National Basketball Team was a huge disappointment for a lot of reasons. It featured many great players, but a mixture of youth, selfishness (Hi, Stephon Marbury!), and butting egos turned the team into a one man show led by Allen Iverson trying to drag the team to gold (That seems to be a depressing trend in AI's career). Emeka Okafor's inclusion on the team was certainly one of those factors that hurt a promising team. Okafor was a promising prospect from the University of Connecticut that had recently been drafted by the Charlotte Bobcats. It's safe to say that he falls firmly in the "youth" section of the problems list. He clearly had no place being on the team and even worse, he only played in 2 of the teams games and scored LITERALLY ZERO POINTS! Okafor's spot should have gone to a more deserving professional who could have contributed, instead of a player fresh out of college clearly not ready for the situation.
17 Best - Dwyane Wade
Dwyane Wade is one of the greatest players of this generation and he may very well be the third or fourth best shooting guard to ever lace up a pair of sneakers, so it's not much a surprise that he's also one of the best players to ever represent the United States in the Olympic Games. D-Wade played in two Olympic tournaments, in 2004 and 2008 (He missed 2012 to get knee surgery). Unsurprisingly, he was one of the few bright spots on that 2004 team. Coming off his rookie season, he averaged 7.3 points a game, more than fellow rookies LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. In 2008, he led the Redemption Team in scoring with 16 points a game. Most importantly, however, he used the 2008 Games to convince LeBron James and Chris Bosh to join him in Miami, forming the super team that would go on to bring two championships to South Beach.
15 Worst - John Stockton
John Stockton is easily the most surprising entry on this list. One of the best pure point guards in NBA history, John Stockton is the NBA's all-time leader in assists and steals. He was one half of one of the greatest duos in basketball history with Karl Malone. He and Malone brought the Utah Jazz to two NBA Finals. However, despite all his regular season and playoff accomplishments, Stockton was an absolute stinker in the Olympics. It's not all his fault, however, as the talent ahead of him on the depth chart was sensational. On the Dream Team in 1992, he was backing up Magic Johnson, the greatest point guard of all time, and he only averaged 2.8 points and 2 assists a game. Then in 1996 on the Dream Team III, he was playing behind Penny Hardaway and Gary Payton, despite arguably being in the prime of his career, and only averaged 3.8 points and 2.8 assists a game. Even though his poor performance is understandable, it's hard not to be disappointed, considering all of Stockton's career achievements.
13 Best - Kevin Durant
The newest member of the Golden State Warriors (You can hear Russell Westbrook fuming from here), Kevin Durant is a top three player in the league today and also one of its most prolific scorers, having won the scoring title four times, including averaging an absurd 32 points a game in 2013-2014, his MVP season. He was a member of the U.S. Men's National Team in 2012 and will be again for the Rio Games this year. In 2012, despite his relative youth at the age of 23, he managed to etch himself into Olympic history forever by setting the record for most points averaged in a single tournament when he averaged 19.5 points a game throughout all eight games. Although he was overshadowed by LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony at times, whose own scoring exploits were historic, but that doesn't look to be an issue this year, as he looks to lead the team to their third straight gold medal as its undisputed alpha dog.
11 Worst - Michael Redd
Michael Redd is an oft forgotten player in NBA history. He was one of the few truly good players in the 2000 NBA Draft (Unequivocally the worst draft in the history of the association) and his three point heavy shooting arsenal helped influence the current direction of NBA basketball, what with Steph Curry hitting 400 shots behind the arc in a single season and making everyone wonder why they thought anyone before this was a big deal. So, he was an innovative player and, although he wasn't exactly a defensive savant, he was a very gifted scorer, good for 22.7 points a game the season before the 2008 Olympic Games. So that's why it's disappointing that he played for poorly for the National Team. He only averaged 3.1 points a game, even though he played in all eight games. He may have been third on the depth chart behind Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade, but it's disappointing that a player of his caliber couldn't do a little more with his time on the court.
9 Best - Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant has evolved from a basketball player to something of a global cultural icon. His popularity overseas may be higher than any player ever, even Michael Jordan or LeBron James. He's also one of the game's greatest practitioners and most deadly scorers. He won five championships in his decorated career and is the league's third all time leading scorer (and highest scoring guard). With all the accolades the Black Mamba's gathered in his career, it's no surprise that his Olympic career was also great. However, it's strange how long it took to kick in. He didn't play in the 2000 or 2004 games, even though he was already a bona-fide megastar by the time those rolled around. However, once he finally made a team, he continued to show everyone just how great he is. He won two gold medals, in 2008 as apart of the Redemption Team, where he was also the team's second leading scorer, and 2012.
7 Worst - Tayshaun Prince
Now this one is weird. The 2008 Redemption Team was put together in the hopes that they'd be so dominant that everyone would forget how embarrassing the 2004 team was (They didn't and they shouldn't). That's why it's so confusing that a roster spot would be given to Tayshaun Prince. Now, first thing's first, Tayshaun Prince was a great player in his prime. He was a terrific defender, versatile and the heart and soul of the 2004 Detroit Pistons championship team, one of the greatest underdog stories in professional basketball. However, he was never a great scorer, never averaging more than 14.7 points in a season, and in the non-stop offensive spot fest that is the Olympic tournament, it's more important to have great scorers than great defenders. On top of that logic, he only averaged 4.3 points, 1.9 rebounds, and 0.3 assists a game over all eight contests.
5 Best - LeBron James
LeBron James is the single greatest player of an entire generation of basketball, so of course he's also one of the best players in the history of the U.S. Men's National Team. He played in three Olympics tournaments, in 2004, 2008, and 2012. He didn't play particularly well in 2004, despite coming off a rookie season that saw him scorer 20.9 points a game and cement himself a future megastar, but neither did fellow rookie sensation Carmelo Anthony, or pretty much anyone else on the team, so it's hard to fault him for that. However, he showed out in 2008 and 2012. On the Redemption Team, The King averaged 15.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 2.4 steals a game as a jack-of-all-trades destroyer, trailing only future teammate Dwyane Wade in scoring. In 2012, he averaged on 11.6 points a game, but also 5.6 rebounds and 5.6 assists, instead opting to facilitate scoring savants Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony on their way to historic performances.
3 Worst - Tyson Chandler
Tyson Chandler is one of the those players that never gets the respect he deserves. He's been a very solid player throughout his entire career, playing outstanding defense and slamming home terrifying slam dunks on a number of good teams. He's been an All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year. However, as with many others on this list, he just wasn't very good on the international stage. In his defense, he wasn't really supposed to be on the National Team in 2012 to begin with. The team was plagued with injuries and players such as Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose, and Dwight Howard couldn't make it. Chandler, and the recently drafted Anthony Davis, was a stand-in for other big men. However, he didn't exactly seize the opportunity when it was presented to him. He only averaged 4 points, 4 rebounds, and 0.5 blocks across all eight games as the team's only true, battle tested center.
1 Best - Michael Jordan
Of course Michael Jordan's on this list. He's the greatest player in the history of professional basketball and he has a list of accomplishments as long as Giannis Antetokounmpo's Greek freakishly long arms. Is it really any surprise that he has two Olympic gold medals on his résumé, too? This entry is partially cheating, as Michael Jordan won one of his gold medals in 1984, fresh out of college, but it's Michael Jordan, so rules are allowed to be broken. On the 1984 team, which was composed entirely of college level players, His Airness was clearly head and shoulders above everyone else. He averaged 17.1 points a game and was the only player to score more than 100 total points throughout the tournament. In 1992, he was the marquee player on a team of megastars on the Dream Team. He averaged 14.9 points, 4.8 assists, and 4.6 steals (!!!) a game, leading the United States National Team to its most dominant Olympic victory ever.
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