The secret meeting Jerry Colangelo had with basketball legends to choose the next coach of Team USA
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The secret meeting Jerry Colangelo had with basketball legends to choose the next coach of Team USA

From the moment NBA players started playing for Team USA, they arrived at every significant tournament like Larry Bird to a 3 point contest, asking “Who’s winning silver?” Barcelona ’92 gold, Atlanta ’96 gold, Sidney ’00 gold. But after the Sydney Olympics, the tables turned. Sixth place in the USA in ’02, Bronze in Athens in ’04, and Bronze in Japan in ’06 set of alarms. 

“I was unhappy with the way people were looking at us as Americans, as athletes, and in particular, our basketball players in Greece. It was a little shameful, in my opinion.”

Jerry Colangelo, “The Dream Team Tapes: Kobe, LeBron & The Redeem Team”

This is how Jerry Colangelo explained his decision to take on the difficult task of returning Team USA to its glory days in the latest episode of “The Dream Team Tapes: Kobe, LeBron & The Redeem Team” from Diversion Podcasts. After David Stern managed to convince Colangelo to take the job, he knew the key was to get the star players back on the roster. The pride in playing for Team USA was gone, and the key to that process was finding the right coach. 

Colangelo arranged a secret meeting that can only be compared to the Avengers assembling. A basketball think-thank that would advise Colangelo who the next coach should be. The list of people in attendance was insane; particularly when considering it was just an idea session. 

“And so he got all these people to come there, and by these people, I’m talking the likes of Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Jerry West, John Thompson, Scottie Pippen. All these legendary figures showed up just because he asked them to.” 

J. A. Adande, “The Dream Team Tapes: Kobe, LeBron & The Redeem Team”

Everyone understood Colangelo would be the one making the final decision, but he was very open and fair in the meeting. Everyone got a chance to speak and share their thoughts. After they were done, Colangelo wrote some names on a board, both from the NBA and college. As it pertained to college coaches, Dean Smith spoke up and said there was only one guy on the board who can get the job done. To everyone’s surprise, Smith was praising his ultimate rival – Coach K. Then it came time to look at the list of coaches from the NBA. 

“No.1 was Popovich. No.2 was someone not coaching anymore – it was Pat Riley. He had stepped down from coaching, but he had got the second most support. I had two candidates, Popovich and Coach K.” 

Jerry Colangelo, “The Dream Team Tapes: Kobe, LeBron & The Redeem Team”

To the average observer, Pop was the favorite to get the gig. He had already won an NBA title as a coach and had a lot of support. But Colangelo and Pop had a rocky history from Colangelo’s days with the Phoenix Suns. So he called Pop to talk about the possibility of becoming the coach for Team USA, and that call left him unimpressed.

“I called Pop, and this turned out to be another problem for the two of us at that time. I didn’t sense any real enthusiasm over the phone. He was basically being himself because he doesn’t show a lot of emotion or enthusiasm.”   

Jerry Colangelo, “The Dream Team Tapes: Kobe, LeBron & The Redeem Team”

When the media asked him about it, Colangelo openly said Pop didn’t seem enthusiastic, and that didn’t sit well with Pop. Popovich sent a letter to Colangelo sharing his thoughts and feelings. Colangelo admits it was a misread from his side, and he apologized to Pop for that. 

So the decision was made, Mike Krzyzewski became the head coach of Team USA. What Colangelo did in that meeting was amazing. He knew potential failure would be his, yet he opened the process and gave everyone a vote in the room. It was risky, but it got Colangelo a lot of confidence the right decision was made. When players hear Dean Smith, Michael Jordan, John Thompson, and Larry Bird were all a part of the coach selection process, they had to fall in line. 

In the next five major tournaments, three Olympics, and two World Championships, Team USA brought home the gold. Order was restored.