When you are expected to win at all times, if the opposite happens, it will almost certainly be considered a major failure.
That is why the USA‘s fourth-place finish at the 2023 FIBA World Cup cannot be described in any other way. A young team, without stars, but full of NBA players who came on a mission of reconquest. Canada, in a historic third-place playoff (118-127), left them without a medal.
The footage of the bronze medal game will go down in history. The United States came out with little intention and Canada were in control for much of the game.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander‘s genius and the best Dillon Brooks opened a partial lead when a historic play by Mikal Bridges broke the deadlock. A missed free throw, a catch of his own rebound (it should not have gone up) and a three-pointer with the last second ticking down. The overtime, of course, was Canada‘s crowning glory with a majestic Shai.
After losing, the faces of the United States said it all. Of disappointment. From the “this isn’t 1992” that coach Steve Kerr said after the semi-final loss to Germany to “we have to try to learn how to win a game in FIBA. We’ve studied everything in FIBA, including the history of the USA when we’ve won. What was the reason,” he said after losing the bronze. It’s a crisis.
They break their own history
The United States leaves Manila with three defeats: Lithuania, Germany and Canada. And for the second consecutive World Cup, without a medal. Their hallmarks on the court are clear, energy and transition, but they were lost between excessive one-on-ones and a lack of defence at key moments.
It had only happened once before. At the 1967 (champion USSR) and 1970 (gold for Yugoslavia) World Championships, the Stars and Stripes, clearly far from the best available, came away from those World Championships with a fourth and fifth-place finish. And it is the third time this century that a World Cup has ended like this (2002, 2019 and 2023).
As it is, the Dream Team is bound to return to the Olympics to reclaim a throne that has been theirs for as long as the sport has existed.
After losing to Germany in the semi-finals, the first rumours began to surface. Even LeBron James, who has been away from the team for a decade, stoked the fire by leaving a few eyes when the first roster pools appeared on the scene.
The Paris Games will be his chance for revenge. Stephen Curry has always shown interest, Kevin Durant is a regular fixture and a good portion of the 12 who won gold in Tokyo – none of whom travelled to Manila – could form a team to reclaim the throne.
“The NBA is very different from FIBA. There are certain things in FIBA that would be fine in the NBA. And vice versa. But that’s a long conversation. There’s a lot to learn,” closed Steve Kerr.