The 2004 Olympics in Athens was the last time Team USA did not win gold at the Games. The USA took bronze in the game it invented, and it was that loss that tipped the first domino that led to the Jerry Colangelo/Mike Krzyzewski takeover of USA Basketball — which has put a real program and tradition in place.
What went wrong in 2004? A lot of things. Guys didn’t want to go to Greece because of security concerns (this was the first Olympics after 9/11, and the Greeks were not thought to be on top of terrorism concerns), but the bigger issue was a lot of veteran guys didn’t want to play for Larry Brown, which led to a talented (LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade) but young team not used to playing together, nor were they ready for that stage.
Among the guys who thought Brown was the problem was Stephon Marbury. In a fantastic interview about his NBA career and his second life as a basketball icon in China with Complex magazine, Marbury talks about those 2004 Games.
Marbury says that on the first day of Olympics practice, Brown asked his players—a group that included LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson – to state their goals for the tournament.
“By the time he got to me, everything was said that needed to be said,’’ Marbury says. “So I said, ‘Let’s also not forget that we need to have fun.’ And Larry goes, ‘Huh. Listen to this guy, talking about having fun!’’’
Marbury was stung and embarrassed by Brown’s condescension. He calls the Olympic experience, “The worst 38 days of my life.’’
Remember that Marbury was a Knick at the time, and soon enough the Knicks hired Brown as their coach. And the downward spiral continued for Marbury.
Fortunately for American hoop fans, Colangelo and USA Basketball learned the lessons of 2004 (and the World Championships before and after it) and used that to fix what was wrong and return the USA to a position of dominance in the world of basketball. Marbury and the other guys on that 2004 team paid some of the price for that.