There are several reasons for this outcome.
The Olympic basketball tournament starts in Tokyo on July 25, and the Russian national team will not participate in it: they failed to qualify. But it is worth watching it in any case because an intrigue is expected: whether the US national team will become a champion again. The Americans now look like they are ready to lose to everyone.
The US national team, which has been the standard of basketball for the whole world since 1992, is now an opponent with whom you can fight on equal terms. So, at the last World Cup, the United States did not even pass the first round of the playoffs.
On the eve of this Olympics, the Americans held three and canceled one exhibition match. And after these games, it started! The fact is that the “stars and stripes” lost twice (this has not happened for a very long time), and in the first case, not to the strongest opponent – the national team of Nigeria. Okay, lose to some Croatia, but to Nigeria!
But I immediately suggest looking at the composition of the Nigerian national team, and, at the same time, at African basketball in general. The coach here is Mike Brown. Oh, is this the one who first led LeBron James to the Final Series in 2007, and then became an NBA champion more than once, as an assistant to Steve Kerr at Golden State? Oh, you didn’t see it!
But that’s not all. Eight of the 15 players represent NBA clubs, and two more are close to the NBA, but free agents. Can you imagine the mood with which the Nigerians came out against the United States? Of course, they need to sell themselves, because all summer events in the NBA are reduced. That is, Nigeria is quite an interesting team, and Africa is a wonderful basketball market, which, apparently, is only at the beginning of its growth.
I can say about the same for Australia, to which the United States also lost. The Australians, unlike the opponent, looked like a team.
And yet, is there any competition for the US team at the Olympics? On offhand, there are three reasons why the strongest team in the world can lose directly at the tournament in Tokyo.
First: COVID-19. The growth of infections in Japan peaked just before the arrival of sports delegations to the Olympic capital. Here, a very important point will be the caution of the Americans. In the USA, they will make a bubble for them, and then they constantly take PCR. And, of course, vaccination, which takes place in the NBA quite successfully and massively. Here, the basketball players are in another country, and even if Tokyo also has a strict bubble and regular testing, contacts are still inevitable, and Americans are used to trust their organizers much more. If there are anti-vaxxers among basketball players, then they are the weak link. They just can’t stand it psychologically. The fact that Bradley Beal and Kevin Love refused to play for the national team, I would still associate it with anti-boxing, and not with injuries that the media wrote about.
The second reason is that many people will have to sell themselves. Here we are talking not so much about the American national team, but about the entire basketball tournament. Many will have to negotiate new contracts as free agents. For the first time, the Olympic tournament is held not after, but during the announcement of the free-agent negotiation period (August 2), and four days after that they can be signed. And these guys are in Tokyo. Yes, for example, Jayson Tatum and Bam Adebayo have contracts only at the beginning of the action, and they still have a long time to play for the Celtics and the Heat, respectively. However, there is Damian Lillard, who arranged a daisy and then talks about his exchange, then that he does not want to exchange. Kevin Durant also has only a year left, and this year will be a contract one.
The third reason: haste. The fact is that the previous national team squads were recruited quite carefully and painstakingly. Coaches Gregg Popovich and Mike Krzyzewski needed only a desire from basketball players to play for the American flag.
Now it is not possible to assemble such a team. Some star players refused to participate for various reasons, whether it was injuries or a desire to rest. Therefore, they go to those who can. For example, Durant goes after his team still lost in the second round of the playoffs to Milwaukee. Will this give the team positive emotions? Maybe Durant will tear everyone up, or maybe he will sit in Tokyo in a depression, like Bill Murray in “Lost in Translation,” which will affect the team as a whole.
So, personally, I do not doubt that the main rival of the US national team is the US national team itself. America and the NBA are the monopolies of basketball thought around the world. And there are quite good performers on the national team. And, yes, the Americans have a bad idea of what the World Cup is, since the NBA champion is, according to their ideology, the world champion. But the Olympics are the only thing that the United States recognizes in the hierarchy of international competitions. So it’s too early to write off the Americans.