I’m sure everyone has their opinion regarding the ‘worst’ USA National Basketball Team of All-Time. As I’ve know international basketball on a first-person basis since 1971, I’m not a fan of tagging some team as the ‘worst ever.’ What’s hard to explain to people in the USA is that the US is at a huge disadvantage with the national basketball team. That’s because the USA starts from scratch every time: 12 new players, a new head coach and a new coaching staff. On the other hand, other nations have CONTINUITY. They have the same coach and the same nucleus of players for years on end. It’s never ‘Year Zero’ for them. That gives them cohesion.
My ‘franchise’ player with Olympia Milan was Dino Meneghin, a 6’9” pivot man who is now in the Hall of Fame. He was also the ‘franchise’ for the Italian National Team. He played 17 summers with Italy’s national team, 1969-84. In that time, he played in four Olympics, three Worlds, eight Europeans. He had a total of 271 games, exhibition games included, with the ‘Azzurri.’ In all that time, he played for just two coaches: Giancarlo Primo, 1969-79, and Sandro Gamba, 1980-84. That’s continuity. What’s more, many of his teammates had long careers with the National Team. So, they were a TEAM and not an All-Star Team.
The USA used to have this cohesion factor. In the 1936 Olympics (the first time basketball was an Olympic sport), the Universal Studios team of Hollywood won the Olympic Trials and sent five players to the Olympic team. That’s a unit. After WWII, in 1948, the US team had five off the AAU Champion Phillips 66ers (and their coach, Bud Browning) and five off NCAA Champion Kentucky (and UK coach Adolph Rupp). In 1952, the USA had five off the AAU Champion Peoria Cats (and their coach, Warren Womble) and five off the NCAA Champion Kansas (and their coach, Hall of Fame inductee Phog Allen). Those three teams swept gold medals.
The USA began picking an All-Star team in 1956 and did so in 1960, 1964 and 1968. In those four years, all gold medal teams, they had 50% players from NCAA teams and 50% from AAU teams, giving the USA age, maturity, experience and knowledge, often, of the international game. The problems started in 1972, after the death of the AAU, when the USA went 100% with NCAA players, giving the team an average age of about 20. We were missing cohesion, continuity, maturity and experience. And, it cost us. So, I’m not for labelling some team the worst US team of all time. The USA has always had a tougher row to hoe. More on this later.