USA’s bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics was a huge disappointment. It was another bad result in a series of poor placements on the international scale. Team USA’s underachieving compelled the Managing Director of USA’s basketball program Jerry Colangelo to obtain the involvement of the NBA’s big guns. The result was USA winning three consecutive Olympic gold medals, with rumors swirling around about USA gathering the best of the best in an attempt of winning fourth in a row.
Guys like Allen Iverson, Richard Jefferson, Shawn Marion, and Tim Duncan were leaders of the 2004 USA basketball team. They saw the most court time, with young guys like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwyane Wade patiently waiting for their opportunity. Well, at least one of them did. Carmelo Anthony talked about him and LeBron not being happy with Jefferson and Marion starting over them. The two made a pact to destroy them in practice and prove their worth to coach Larry Brown.
“When we made that pact, it was just like, ‘What? Are they playing in front of us? Really?’ That was me and Bron’s mentality. But then, we used to go to practice, and in practice, that was our games. We used to huddle up before practice and be like, ‘Yo listen. Let’s go to war. Like we want the smoke today. If they ain’t ready to play today, it’s on.”Carmelo Anthony, WRTS: After Party
It was their first time on the Olympics stage. They wanted to prove themselves, and that’s all understandable. But I can’t shake the feeling that they weren’t ready. Even Richard Jefferson doesn’t think they were prepared, especially for the role they wanted to have. Jefferson also denied the stuff Maverick Carter said about Carmelo and LeBron destroying him and Marion in the following season as an act of revenge for being their subs in Athens. In none of the matchups were the veterans heavily outplayed, which only proves that the youngster wanted more than they could offer at the time.
“We did want that smoke. The 04 Richard Jefferson wanted that smoke. Look, Carmelo was not ready. And truth be told, neither was I. We had the youngest team of all the Dream Teams. We had 8 players under 25. That’s not a recipe for success. Carmelo is the greatest USA men’s basketball player internationally that this country has ever seen, so I’m not going to look at him and disrespect him. But I had to go back and look at the stats because I saw the clip. If you go back and look at the next three times we played against each other, the very first game we played against each other, I had 26 and 11 and held Carmelo to 9 points. So Carmelo was not ready at the time. I understand, he was in his first and second year, and his career is far greater than mine, that’s not the conversation, but at that moment, at that time, Carmelo wasn’t ready.”Richard Jefferson, The Jump
International basketball differs from the NBA’s. It requires a certain adjustment period. The overall talent is essential, but the fit is crucial. This is something Carmelo and James couldn’t understand at the time. It wasn’t about leading; it was about fitting. You are playing your role to the best of your ability in a restricted period on the floor. It was also about gathering experience for the future. The one that would’ve helped them when they are required to lead. This just wasn’t their time.
It was their desire to prove themselves that stopped them from seeing the bigger picture. They got caught up in the internal battle with their teammates instead of focusing on helping the collective in reaching their goal. It was something most of the young and talented players go through. Coming out of college or high school, where they are treated like stars, it’s hard for young players to accept the fact that it’s not all about them anymore and that they will have to wait for their opportunity. Especially on the international scale.
Being hungry is excellent. Being competitive is also great. But it’s also about being humble and taking advantage of every opportunity you are given. Years after, LeBron and Carmelo played a crucial role in winning gold medals for the USA team. It just wasn’t their time in 2004.