On two separate occasions, a decade passed when Team USA did not lose a single game. Then, both times, the losses started to occur one after another, a stage the squad is currently in.

Credit: Andreas Weber; FIBA; imago images/Moritz Müller, REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon - Scanpix | BasketNews illustration/M.Bertys
Credit Andreas Weber; FIBA; imago images/Moritz Müller, REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon - Scanpix | BasketNews illustration/M.Bertys

On September 3rd, Lithuania played one of the best quarters in the country's basketball history and stunned Team USA, giving them their first loss in the 2023 FIBA World Cup. It was the 11th loss a fully-stacked NBA players-only roster suffered in major international tournaments.

Just five days later, Team USA was defeated once again. This time, Germany outran and outgunned the Americans en route to a final, while the favorites had to play for a bronze medal.

Two more days later, Team USA fell to Canada and was left without a medal.

It was the sixth loss in the last five years - a stark contrast to the 11-year undefeated stretch from 2008 until 2019 and a team that was once feared by every single opponent.

1990 marked the first year when NBA players were allowed to compete in international FIBA tournaments. However, the 1990 FIBA World Championship did not feature any of the league's stars.

After suffering two losses and finishing third in the tournament, the NBA changed its ways. Two years later, the greatest roster ever assembled was formed - the Dream Team.

They crushed the competition in the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. The dominance continued until 1998, when the NBA lockout restricted the ability of the biggest stars to compete internationally. The roster of college athletes and international US players placed 3rd in that year's World Cup.

After that point, it was never the same. Even though Team USA went undefeated in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the first signs of their inevitability being crushed could be seen.

In 2000, Lithuania was one shot away from defeating Team USA in the semifinal. The first defeat of a full-strength roster came just two years later, in 2002.

The USA hosted the 2002 FIBA World Cup in Indianapolis. At the time, a fully-stacked US roster hadn't lost for a decade. During the tournament, they lost three games out of nine.

2002 FIBA World Championship
Second Round vs. Argentina

80:87 (21:34, 16:19, 23:15, 20:19)

Top Performers
Team USA
PTS REB AST Argentina
Paul Pierce 22 4 6 Manu Ginobili 15 1 3
Andre Miller 14 8 5 Andres Nocioni 14 4 1
Michael Finley 14 3 2 Fabrizio Oberto 11 9 2

The two teams met in the last game of the Second Round. Both Argentina and the US hadn't lost up until that point in the tournament, and both had defeated their previous opponents relatively easily.

Argentina got off to a scorching start and already led 22-12 after the first 7 minutes. The underdog dominance continued, and the difference between the teams was already at 18 points in the middle of the second quarter.

Although the US managed to narrow the deficit down to 8 points before the start of the last quarter, the difference between the teams never got below 7 points, and Argentina celebrated a monumental victory.

Team USA never held a lead in the entire 40 minutes. Team USA shot just 27-for-72 from the field and made just 17 free throws out of 29.

Two years later, Manu Ginobili said that the other teams in the competition greeted them with a standing ovation when Argentina arrived in the team hotel.

Argentina never got to celebrate their win, though. A party was going on, but head coach Ruben Magnano took the team to the conference room to prepare for the upcoming quarterfinal game, saying that the victory didn't matter if they didn't get to play for medals.

The Pantagraph headline after Team USA's first-ever loss
The Pantagraph headline after Team USA's first-ever loss
Credit The Pantagraph via Newspapers.com

The following day, The Associated Press called it one of the darkest nights in the history of American basketball.

"We still can't believe what we have done. I mean, it's the Dream Team. Nobody has done it before. And I like to make history," Luis Scola, who would end up playing in the NBA later in his career, said."They have better talent, they have better training, but I think we played better today. You got to believe."

"They were a lot better than we thought. They were just beating us every which way," Baron Davis said after the game. "It's not the medal round, and we'll be back to win the gold," he declared.

"I'm embarrassed to be on the team that took the first loss. We can still go out and win the gold medal, but we're still 'that' team," Paul Pierce said.

"Reggie [Miller] brought us together," he continued. "He said the world is against us. The world, the stands, the refs are all against us. The only thing we can do is go out and play head the rest of the games and get the gold medal."

The very next day, Team USA had to fight against FR Yugoslavia in a win-or-go-home battle in the quarterfinals. "It will be interesting to see how we respond," said head coach George Karl.

2002 FIBA World Championship
Quarterfinal vs. FR Yugoslavia

78:81 (20:20, 16:20, 22:12, 20:29)

Top Performers
Team USA
PTS REB AST Yugoslavia
Paul Pierce 19 6 4 Predrag Stojakovic 20 4 4
Andre Miller 19 2 7 Vlade Divac 16 11 2
Michael Finley 12 2 3 Milan Gurovic 15 7 0

After their first-ever loss in a major FIBA tournament, Team USA had to play in a quarterfinal against the reigning world champions - FR Yugoslavia. What followed is often described as the greatest victory in Serbian basketball history.

Even though Yugoslavia started the game better (13-5), the US went on a two-minute 11-to-3 run to the score at 16. Yugoslavia kept a slight lead throughout the entire first half and entered the break with a four-point advantage (40-36).

Interestingly, chants of Argentina, the team that beat the US earlier in the competition, could be heard in the third quarter when the US had the ball offensively.

Similarly to the game against Argentina, Team USA had a dominant third quarter. With under four minutes left in the period, the favorites went on a 9-0 run to establish a 10-point lead (56-46).

After winning the quarter by 10 (22-12), Team USA led by 6 points coming into the final 10 minutes of the game. Leading by ten with 6 minutes remaining (69-59), Jermaine O'Neal shot two free throws but missed both, one of which didn't even touch the rim, and Yugoslavia started to mount a comeback.

Milan Gurovic, a free agent at the time, hit two consecutive threes, while Dejan Tomasevic tipped a ball in. Andre Miller's layup was answered by a Marko Jaric triple, and the teams were already tied at 72 with under three minutes remaining. 

Milan Gurovic celebrates as Yugoslavia beats Team USA in 2002 FIBA World Championship
Milan Gurovic celebrates as Yugoslavia beats Team USA in 2002 FIBA World Championship
Credit Star Tribune via Newspapers.com

Coached by Svetislav Pesic, who currently leads the Serbian national team in the 2023 FIBA World Cup, Yugoslavia benefited from another two missed free throws by O'Neal and took a one-point lead on the ensuing possession.

Gurovic hit another triple with just under a minute remaining to push the lead to four (77-73), but Andre Miller hit a triple of his own to cut the deficit to one (77-76).

On the following possession, a highly questionable call was made by referee Nikos Pitsilkas, who called a foul on Andre Miller, sending Marko Jaric to the free-throw line. Yugoslavia converted all their shots, Team USA couldn't come back, and the underdogs got a monumental victory.

The Yugoslavians hugged, high-fived, and kissed their supporters for almost an hour after the game. Team USA left the court in shock. "Last night was much more discouraging. Tonight is disappointing," head coach George Karl said.

"Now that we've lost, it's a big deal," said Baron Davis, who had previously downplayed the loss to Argentina.

Vlade Divac was focused, however. Some say he didn't even smoke a single cigarette while preparing for the game, a feat that was otherwise usual for him.

"You can imagine how happy my people are. They feel so good right now," Predrag 'Peja' Stojakovic said. "They've been up at 3 AM, getting out of bed and watching this thing. They love this. We wanted to win for them."

2002 FIBA World Championship
5th Place Game vs. Spain

75:81 (27:18, 23:22, 15:16, 10:25)

Top Performers
Team USA
Raef LaFrentz 13 7 1 Juan Carlos Navarro 26 4 3
Ben Wallace 12 8 0 Pau Gasol 19 10 4
Elton Brand 9 7 1 Felipe Reyes 12 9 1

After the loss against FR Yugoslavia in the quarterfinal, Team USA had to play for fifth place. A win against Puerto Rico set up a clash against Spain.

The US got off to a much better start and had an 11-point lead after a few minutes of play (16-5). Team USA maintained the difference between the teams throughout the first two quarters. Paul Pierce hit a buzzer-beating three, and Spain faced a 10-point deficit at the half (50-40).

The Americans started the second half with a 6-0 run that was capped off by a Ben Wallace alley-oop dunk (56-40). However, little by little, Spain inched back to a nine-point deficit (65-56) with 10 minutes remaining to play.

With half the final quarter remaining, the US still held a 9-point lead (73-64). That's when the Spanish run started. Pau Gasol hit a dunk, then an alley-oop-and-one, Juan Carlos Navarro nailed a triple, and the teams were separated by just two points (74-72).

After Michael Finley hit one free throw out of two for the second time in a row, Team USA failed to score in the last 2:38 minutes, while Spain closed the game with a 9-0 run. Overall, the Spanish ended the match with a stunning 17-2 spurt.

Team USA got defeated for the third time in four games
Team USA got defeated for the third time in four games
Credit Newsday via Newspapers.com

Paul Pierce, Team USA's leading scorer, didn't play in the fourth quarter.

"We brought our team to this tournament with some of our best, but we didn't bring the players that obviously everyone was looking forward to see. Hopefully, this will be a call for these guys to come out and represent our country," he said after the game.

"This is a young team, and these are the players who are on the verge of becoming superstars and still trying to establish themselves," the forward continued. "We have established superstars who had a chance to come and compete, and hopefully, it will be a wake-up call for them."

After previously going 58-0 with a full-strength roster, Team USA lost three games out of nine.

"We came out in this tournament, and we definitely made history. It wasn't the type of history we wanted to make," Ben Wallace summarized the 2002 FIBA World Championship.

"Coming into this thing, I don't think we realized how important it should've been to us," Antonio Davis said about the 2002 FIBA World Championship.

"I still think we're the best, the model for the world, but people are catching up," Team USA head coach George Karl said after the tournament. "They beat us, and they beat us in our own country. We have to tip our hat to them."

Team USA practiced for only 10 days before the 2002 FIBA World Championship. There were no US players among the Top 10 in field goal percentage, rebounding, or free-throw percentage. Only Paul Pierce was among the Top 25 in scoring. Michael Finley was 30th.

Team USA lost the free-throw percentage battle in every single game in the tournament. Even when Puerto Rico shot at just 56.5%, the US managed to shoot worse (50%).

"If we can't find guys who can shoot the ball, we're going to be in trouble," Chuck Daly, who coached the original Dream Team, said. "International players and teams are getting better and better. We're going to get beat. It's just a question of when."

Without knowing it, Daly foreshadowed what happened in 2004.

2004 Olympic Games
Group Stage vs. Puerto Rico

73:92 (20:21, 7:28, 21:16, 25:27)

Top Performers
Team USA
Tim Duncan 15 16 4 Carlos Arroyo 24 4 7
Allen Iverson 15 4 3 Eddie Casiano 18 0 1
Lamar Odom 13 5 0 Larry Ayuso 15 3 1

In the very first game of the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, Team USA squared off against Puerto Rico, a team they had beaten in the 2002 FIBA World Championship. They had also beaten Puerto Rico five times in the last 13 months.

On that day, it didn't matter.

The last time Team USA led during that game was with four-and-a-half minutes left in the first quarter (11-10). Then, Puerto Rico went on a 7-0 run, and the game was never the same.

Although the first quarter was tight, the second quarter was a different story. After exchanging shots in the first minute, Puerto Rico went on a 15-2 run over the next five minutes (39-24).

When the lead stood at 15 points with two minutes to go (42-27), Puerto Rico capped the first half off with a 7-0 run to establish a gargantuan 22-point lead after 20 minutes of play (49-27).

Team USA could never recover.

Team USA loses their first game of the Athens Olympics
Team USA loses their first game of the Athens Olympics
Credit Globe Gazette via Newspapers.com

"We wanted to show that Puerto Rican basketball deserved a little more respect," Arroyo, who led Puerto Rico with 24 points, said. "I think Puerto Rico right now is celebrating big because of this. By far, it's the happiest victory of my career."

The US decisively won the rebounding battle (46 to 27) but shot just 26-for-76 (34.2%) from the field and missed 11 free throws out of 29 (62.1%). Puerto Rico had a better field-goal, three-point, and free-throw shooting percentage than the US.

"They played so much harder and so much better than we did that the result isn't a surprise at all. I don't know what we can take from this," Larry Brown, Team USA's head coach, admitted and later said that he was humiliated.

Allen Iverson, however, was more optimistic. "It was disappointing, but it's not the end of the world," he said.

At the same time, Richard Jefferson, who shot just 3-for-16 from the field, couldn't believe what was happening on the court. "We couldn't hit anything. I shot two off the side of the backboard. Never in my life have I done that," he said. "This was a worst-case scenario."

2004 Olympic Games
Group Stage vs. Lithuania

90:94 (26:23, 23:21, 20:23, 21:27)

Top Performers
Team USA
Richard Jefferson 20 1 2 Sarunas Jasikevicius 28 2 4
Tim Duncan 16 12 1 Saulius Stombergas 16 10 0
Lamar Odom 11 6 0 Ramunas Siskauskas 14 6 1

After the painful loss against Puerto Rico, Team USA got two relatively comfortable wins against Greece and Australia. Lithuania came after a dominant victory over Greece, winning the game by a bigger margin than the US did earlier in the Olympics (18 to 7).

Puerto Rico successfully utilized zone defense to combat Team USA's inside present and allow them to shoot from beyond the arc instead. Lithuania employed the same tactic from the early minutes as well.

Similarly to the match versus Puerto Rico, the first quarter was close. Contrary to the match versus Puerto Rico, Team USA did not succumb later and even held a 9-point lead with two minutes remaining in the third quarter (65-56).

However, Lithuania came back and trailed by just two points heading into the final quarter (69-67). The game remained tight until three minutes were left in the match when a sequence known in Lithuania as 'Saras does America' happened.

Trailing by three points (81-84), Lithuania had the ball. Then, Sarunas Jasikevicius, a then-26-year-old Lithuanian guard, hit a three-and-one with Lamar Odom's foul. "I just looked at him because he was hollering and screaming before when he was playing defense," he later said about it after the game.

When Allen Iverson missed a three-pointer, Jasikevicius, known as Saras, hit a triple on the other side of the court, giving Lithuania a four-point cushion (88-84). When Richard Jefferson finally converted a three-pointer, Saras hit another triple, forcing the US to call a timeout (91-87).

After a successful defensive possession, Saras hit two free throws, and Team USA could not overcome the deficit. 

Credit Atlantic City via Newspapers.com

The US was once again plagued by subpar shooting, missing important, and most importantly, wide-open shots. Such a situation was colorfully criticized by head coach Larry Brown after the game.

"We have so many open shots. We just have to hope these guys remember that they make them in the NBA," he told the media.

"It was tough losing tonight. In our situation, if we continue to play as hard as we played, I start making some shots, we get some more defensive stops, we know that we can still do it," Stephon Marbury remained optimistic.

Jasikevicius, whose name was loudly and clearly heard after the match, dismissed the victory.

"This is, in a way, an incredible win, and in a way, it doesn't mean anything," the Lithuanian guard said. "What does this mean if you don't win a medal? We beat the States. So what? We came here not to beat the States or any other team, we just came here to fight for the medal

"[The] USA [is] still the favorite, but it was not like in Barcelona or Atlanta, where they were bound to win everything. They're not unbeatable now," Jasikevicius said.

2004 Olympic Games
Semifinal vs. Argentina

81:89 (20:24, 18:19, 19:27, 24:19)

Top Performers
Team USA
Stephon Marbury 18 1 1 Manu Ginobili 29 3 3
Lamar Odom 14 8 3 Andres Nocioni 13 5 1
Allen Iverson 10 3 3 Alejandro Montecchia 12 1 2

Despite losing two of the first four games, Team USA went on to play in the semifinal. That's where they met Argentina, the team that beat them two years ago.

Early on, Tim Duncan dominated offensively. He scored 8 of the team's first 13 points. Team USA had a 15-13 lead with four minutes remaining in the first quarter. It was the last time they led in the entire game.

With the score standing at 35-33 and three minutes left in the second quarter, Argentina made a 7-0 run, highlighted by a Hugo Sconochini behind-the-back pass on a fast break that forced Team USA head coach Larry Brown to take a timeout.

Tim Duncan, who was Team USA's best player at the time, picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter. Meanwhile, Argentina, led by Manu Ginobili, increased their lead to 16 (56-40).

Despite Duncan being sidelined, the US answered with a 12-2 run to narrow the deficit to six (54-60). However, Argentina answered with two triples, and the difference between the teams was up to twelve again (66-54).

Tim Duncan fouled out while setting a screen with 5 minutes remaining in the game, and Team USA never got closer than 6 points.

Walter Herrmann, who had lost four close family members in a span of a year before the Olympics, made several crucial shots during the last minutes and was monumental in securing the historic win for Argentina.

Credit Times Colonist via Newspapers.com

Although Argentina committed 20 turnovers, they beat their opponents in other categories, as Team USA had worse field goal and free throw shooting percentages.

Argentina based their defense on allowing Team USA players to attempt threes. Dwyane Wade would often overlook such a situation and choose to drive to the basket instead. Argentinian players didn't even contest some of the triples the US attempted.

Team USA was dead last in the tournament in three-point shooting, so the tactic was well thought out.

"No one takes pictures of the Americans any more. When I play against the US, I don't think of the NBA. I think of representing my country. And they talk about zones. We played man-to-man half the game tonight," Argentina's guard Pepe Sanchez said while mentioning zone defense that was a common tactic used against Team USA in the tournament.

"A month is a long time. If you're a great player, you can adapt," he explained. "It's basketball. I only know one way to play basketball. They're good. We're good. And be beat them."

Head coach Larry Brown wanted to pay attention to the refereeing in the World Championship, a hot topic during the tournament. Notably, top-level European referees who worked in the EuroLeague were not allowed to work in the Athens Olympics due to the league's conflict with FIBA.

"For us to have any chance, we had to have an inside presence. I've never seen Timmy foul out in 19 minutes in any game in our league, and I think he fouled out of four here. Aside from that, Argentina played great and deserves a lot of credit." Brown

"You can't just show up at a basketball game and feel that because you have USA across your chest you're going to win the game," Allen Iverson summed it up.

"There are 30 general managers who would like this roster," NBA Commissioner David Stern said about the 2004 Olympics team, clearly not seeing an issue with the selected players.

Still, Team USA was missing at least several league stars, such as Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd, Tracy McGrady, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen.

"I wish the result could have been different. I think we did about as well as we could have done under the circumstances," head coach Larry Brown said after the loss against Argentina.

A wide range of people disagreed.

One of the biggest criticisms Team USA faced both in 2002 and 2004 was the lack of preparation. While it wasn't as bad as just 10 days before the start of the tournament, the 2004 squad did not have much time for preparation either.

"Whether it was enough time, I don't know. We knew we had to get it done in that time. That's not an excuse. Should it be more time? I know it would help a lot. I know a lot of teams have been together longer than us," Allen Iverson agreed.

Credit Rocky Mount Telegram via Newspapers.com

USA Basketball took notice of the things that plagued the roster and made changes.

Long-time NBA executive Jerry Colangelo was named the managing director of USA Basketball. He implemented numerous modifications to the way the roster was constructed.

The most important change was that the players would have to commit to playing for the US for several years. "If you look at the international rosters of the successful teams, they have players who have played in two or sometimes three Olympics," Colangelo commented on the decision.

In October 2005, Mike Krzyzewski, a Duke coaching legend better known as Coach K, was announced as the new head coach until the end of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

"It's not about an all-star team. It's about putting together a good basketball team with the right components," Colangelo said after promising to have enough shooters.

Ten months later came the 2006 FIBA World Championship.

2006 FIBA World Championship
Semifinal vs. Greece

95:101 (20:14, 21:31, 24:32, 30:24)

Top Performers
Team USA
Carmelo Anthony 27 3 2 Vassilis Spanoulis 22 3 1
Dwyane Wade 19 2 3 Michalis Kakiouzis 15 6 1
LeBron James 17 5 5 Sofoklis Schortsanitis 14 1 0

Team USA featured a retooled roster of up-and-coming league NBA stars. Gone were the days when the Dream Team would suffer from the inability to shoot from beyond the arc.

Greece, meanwhile, did not have a single NBA player on the squad. They based their game on teamwork and smart basketball rather than pure talent. It was exactly what they needed on September 1st, 2006.

The US held an early lead (18-12) and maintained it throughout the first half. With 6 minutes to go in the second quarter, they already had a 12-point advantage over the Greeks (33-21).

That's when the Europeans answered with a 9-0 run to narrow the deficit to just three (30-33). It was a foreshadowing of the things that were about to happen later.

First, the Greek entered the second half with a four-point lead (45-41). Then, they dominated in the early minutes of the third quarter and already had an impressive 14-point advantage (65-51) in the middle of the period.

To finish it off, Theodoros Papaloukas scored a last-second layup with the third quarter's buzzer (77-65).

Greece based their game on high pick-and-roll, and the US couldn't stop it. "It seemed like they didn't miss the whole third quarter," Dwyane Wade said after the game. "They ran like one play the whole game."

The closest Team USA got to Greece was four points in the last seconds of the match.

Credit Florida Today via Newspapers.com

"We have to learn the international game better. We learned a lot today because we played a team that plays amazing basketball and plays together," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the loss.

Meanwhile, Papaloukas, who had 12 assists in the game, took a jab at the US team. 

"I think we showed everybody that maybe we're not very good athletes like them, but we know how to play the game. We are clever," he said.

"It's hard for one team if they have so many big players in one month to adapt to their new roles. All these players are big stars, but you have to do small different things," he explained. "I think that was the difference. In our team, everybody knew what they had to do exactly."

Greece's head coach, Panagiotis Giannakis, who received a congratulatory call from Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis after the game, emphasized teamwork as well.

"Basketball is not just about dribbling and shooting," the specialist said. "You can come off the bench with a clear mind and give the best of your talent, and that's what our players did today."

At the same time, Carmelo Anthony was shocked at the outcome. He was part of the 2004 Olympics roster that suffered an embarrassment in Athens. He was part of a losing roster again.

"To lose any game is a shock to us," he said. "We came in with the mentality to win the game and the gold medal."

"They played damn near a perfect game," Chris Bosh was in awe.

The 2006 FIBA World Championship was part of a bigger plan to reestablish the USA as the top basketball team in the world. Even though it could be clearly seen that the roster was on the right track, the disappointment still loomed.

"I've never had a defeat worse than that. I mean, you're coaching your country's team, and you lose," Krzyzewski said in the Netflix documentary 'The Redeem Team' about the loss to Greece.

"We had the gold medal as our goal, and anything short is disappointing," Jerry Colangelo, the managing director of US Basketball, agreed.

The next summer, Team USA gathered in Las Vegas in preparation for the FIBA Americas 2005 tournament. The management had realized that the entire roster needed to adapt to the game instead of trying to force the wins through talent and skill alone.

"We lost in '06 because we thought we knew the landscape, and we didn't. We were gonna now learn the game we were playing instead of the game we played in the NBA," Krzyzewski said.

"You can walk through the free-throw line when someone's shooting in the Olympics, you can touch the ball off the rim in the Olympics. It's all these small rule things that we weren't used to," Dwyane Wade agreed.

The team was young at the time. Colangelo and Krzyzewski understood that to win the Olympic gold, veteran leadership was needed on the roster. They went on and recruited the biggest name in the league - Kobe Bryant.

Credit The Tennessean via Newspapers.com

Kobe was coming off his age-28 season. He was at his peak. And yet, he provided the veteran leadership for the up-and-coming talent on the squad.

"Growing up overseas, I have a pretty good understanding of the emotion and the passion that they play the game with over there and how important it is to beat us," he said in 2005.

When the others were coming back from a party, Bryant went to work out at five in the morning. Pretty soon, the remaining players joined him. Kobe backed up his words with his play on the court as well, inspiring his teammates to do the same.

That's how the Redeem Team was born.

With the best and most talented players equipped for the FIBA game, the US went on to dominate the game in the 2008, 2012, and 2016 Olympic Games. They won the FIBA World Championship in 2010 and 2014. For more than a decade, Team USA was at the top of the basketball world, just like they were in the 90s.

Following the 2016 gold in Rio de Janeiro, Mike Krzyzewski stepped down as the head coach. At the same time, FIBA changed the international calendar, making it a copy of the one FIFA has established in football.

Three years had passed since the 2016 Olympics until the next major international tournament. NBA coaching legend Gregg Popovich was hired as the next head coach of the seemingly unbeatable squad.

In 2019, a huge number of NBA players withdrew from competing in the 2019 FIBA World Cup. That year, a young squad was sent to prove itself once again.

2019 FIBA World Cup
Quarterfinal vs. France

79:89 (18:18, 21:27, 27:18, 13:26)

Top Performers
Team USA
Donovan Mitchell 29 6 4 Evan Fournier 22 3 4
Marcus Smart 11 0 2 Rudy Gobert 21 16 2
Kemba Walker 10 3 0 Nando de Colo 18 2 1

The Tony Parker era was seen as the most glorious in French basketball history. A gold, a silver, and two bronzes at EuroBaskets, and a bronze at the 2014 FIBA World Cup. France didn't have the San Antonio Spurs star guiding the offense anymore.

Instead, they relied on Evan Fournier's scoring, Rudy Gobert's defensive capabilities, and Nando de Colo's mastery of the European playing style. For Team USA, Boston Celtics up-and-comer Jayson Tatum was sidelined with an ankle injury.

It was a back-and-forth battle throughout the entire first half, but France had a slight upper hand and got themselves a 7-point lead (36-29) that they largely kept entering halftime (45-39).

France had a 10-point lead with 7:30 remaining in the third (53-43), but the US inched back and tied the score after a Donovan Mitchell dunk (60-60). Mitchell later hit a triple, and Team USA headed into the final quarter with a three-point lead (66-63).

Kemba Walker hit a stepback jumper with 8:11 to go to push the difference to seven (72-65). The US still had a five-point lead in the middle of the quarter (76-71), but then France went on a 9-0 run and already led by four (80-76) with 2:52 remaining.

Marcus Smart missed two free throws, and the US could not overcome the deficit. Frank Ntilikina, who was a low-scoring role player for the New York Knicks at the time, hit several clutch long-range shots in the fourth quarter.

Team USA couldn't contain Rudy Gobert. He not only recorded a monstrous double-double but also blocked Mitchell's layup attempt with under a minute to go, sealing the victory for the French.

Credit The Boston Globe via Newspapers.com

Gobert could not contain his happiness after the game.

"I've been dreaming about this for a while," he revealed. "I was thinking there was going to be a short window of time when we were going to do it. I was thinking that before the game and thought we might never get the opportunity again."

US head coach Gregg Popovich, whose team would have to play in the classification stage next, was disappointed.

"Any loss hurts. And in this situation, it hurts more. But life goes on," he said in his laconic manner.

Kemba Walker, meanwhile, admitted that the players just have to own the loss, a first one for Team USA in more than a decade.

"Just got to take it like a man at this point. We lost. There's nothing we can do," the guard said. "We competed. We've been competing since day one that we got to training camp. But we gave it everything we've got. I know we're Team USA and things of that nature and they've been winning for a lot of years, but you know, we didn't get a chance to pull it off."

The very next day, a matchup against Serbia was waiting, a team they were often projected to meet in the tournament's final.

2019 FIBA World Cup
Classification 5-8 vs. Serbia

89:94 (7:32, 33:12, 28:27, 21:23)

Top Performers
Team USA
Harrison Barnes 22 5 4 Bogdan Bogdanovic 28 4 6
Kemba Walker 18 4 8 Vladimir Lucic 15 4 1
Khris Middleton 16 6 1 Nikola Jokic 9 3 7

The meeting between Serbia and the US had an additional wrinkle to it because of the comment Serbia's head coach, Sasa Djordjevic, made during the preparatory cycle.

"Let's let them play their basketball, we play ours, and if we meet, may God help them," he said during a television interview.

The two teams were projected as the favorites of the competition. They met in a classification round where the best you can do is 5th place.

The Serbs didn't have any mercy during the first quarter. Bogdan Bogdanovic hit three triples in a row, and Serbia already had a 9-point lead after several minutes (11-2). The Balkan team continued its dominance and had a whopping 21-point lead near the end of the quarter (26-5). Serbia made 8 triples in 9 attempts, and Team USA trailed by 25 points after the first quarter (7-32).

The US answered back with a huge 16-2 run in the second quarter. They went on another 8-1 run to end the half, and the teams were separated by just four (44-40).

Whenever Serbia tried to run away in the third quarter, the US would narrow the deficit to three to six points. The story was different in the fourth quarter, as Serbia got off to an early 10-point lead and kept it throughout.

Credit The New York Daily News via Newspapers.com

Despite the win, the overwhelming feeling in the Serbian camp was that the two squads had to play in the final instead of a classification game.

"It's a really tough game to play against these guys. I'm sure both teams were really upset after losing in the quarterfinals, and we were just trying to make people happy," Bogdan Bogdanovic said.

While players like Joe Harris were disappointed in yet another loss, Gregg Popovich emphasized the team's comeback in the second quarter.

"I can't tell you how much I've been impressed the whole time with their character, their stick-to-itiviness and their persistence as they're learning how to play together," the coach told the media. "Tonight was a great example of that."

Asked whether he regrets coming to play for the US to be on a team that loses on the world stage again, Harrison Barnes denied ever coming to such a conclusion.

"There's no regrets from our group in terms of what we've given, what we've sacrificed, the commitment everyone's made to be away from their families, away from their teams, away from their organizations," he said. "There's no regrets."

"We're also the ones who stepped up to the plate when others stepped down. We qualified our nation for the Olympics," Myles Turner tried to look up to the brighter side.

The next year, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world, forcing to cancel all sporting events globally. The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games were not an exception.

Instead, the Olympics were held a year later, in 2021, and they featured empty sports halls due to attendance limitations the virus presented in Japan.

After ending the 2019 FIBA World Cup in 7th place, the worst finish in US Basketball history, Team USA wanted to return to the podium and take the gold medal once again, extending the winning stream at the Olympics.

As such, not a single player from last year's roster was included in the squad. At the same time, established NBA names that had FIBA-winning experience came back.

Kevin Durant, who won gold at the 2010 FIBA World Championship and the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, led the roster again. He was joined by league superstar Damian Lillard and young stars Jayson Tatum, Devin Booker, Zach LaVine, and Bam Adebayo. All-around hustler Draymond Green was on the roster as well.

Despite all of that, Team USA struggled in the preparatory cycle. After previously going 54-2, they lost two matches against Australia and, surprisingly, Nigeria.

"I think every team wants to beat us. Everybody wants to see us lose, so every game has a little bit more pressure to it," Durant said before the Olympics. "So many people are used to Team USA coming in and blowing everybody out, and it was good for us to see that, and hopefully, those are the last losses."

They weren't.

2020 Olympic Games
Group Stage vs. France

76:83 (22:15, 23:22, 11:25, 21:20)

Top Performers
Team USA
Jrue Holiday 18 7 4 Evan Fournier 28 4 1
Bam Adebayo 12 10 2 Rudy Gobert 14 9 1
Damian Lillard 11 3 3 Nando de Colo 13 5 5

In the first game of the Olympic Tournament, Team USA met France, the team that had beaten them in the FIBA World Cup quarterfinal two years prior. 

Early on, it seemed like the US had learned from their mistakes. A tremendous defensive effort was followed by easy fast-break points, and Team USA held a 9-point lead in the first quarter (22-13).

Contrary to the past instances, everything did not come crashing down in the second quarter. The US maintained their lead and headed into the second half, up by eight (45-37).

The French run did eventually happen. When Team USA held a nine-point advantage early in the third quarter (49-40), the French held a run of 12-3 and tied the score at 52.

More importantly, however, Kevin Durant got his fourth personal foul with 6:45 remaining in the third quarter. Without Durant on the other side of the court, France started to feel they could win.

Even when Durant returned in the fourth quarter, the momentum had already been shifted. Despite this fact, Team USA showed character and made an 18-5 run to gain a solid 7-point lead with three minutes remaining (74-67).

The remaining minutes were a stark contract between the teams. While Devin Booker missed a wide-open triple and Bam Adebayo failed to convert any of his two free throws, the French made hustle plays and made almost all of their shots.

To illustrate the situation, Damian Lillard slipped and fell, losing the ball. Just a second later, he was awarded an unsportsmanlike foul for tripping Evan Fournier, which sealed the game.

Credit The Los Angeles Times via Newspapers.com

For the first time since the 2004 loss against Puerto Rico, Team USA failed to win the opening game of a major international tournament.

"They're better individually. But they can be beaten as a team," Fournier summarized the situation.

In his true fashion, Gregg Popovich, meanwhile, took a shot at the questions the media asked after the game.

"When you lose a game, you're not surprised, you're disappointed. I don't understand the word surprise. That sort of disses the French team, so to speak, as if we are supposed to beat them by 30 or something," he said.

"That's a hell of a team. They have NBA players, other talented players playing in Europe [who've been] together for a long time. I think it's a little bit of hubris if you think the Americans are supposed to just roll out the ball and win," the legendary coach continued. "You have to work for it, and for those 40 minutes, they played better than we did."

Damian Lillard, who lost the crucial ball with 20 seconds remaining, wanted to look at the retrospective of the entire period when Team USA started losing again.

"I think we have a history of dominance, maybe not always blowing people out, but we have a history of winning. It's not often that you see Team USA go out there and lose, especially to start," he began.

"I think that's why a lot of people will make it seem like the end of the world, but our job as professionals and as this team representing our country in these Olympics, we have to do what's necessary," Lillard explained. "We can still accomplish what we came here to accomplish, and we have to make sure we keep that in mind."

Contrary to Baron Davis' words in 2002, Damian Lillard was right this time around. Team USA comfortably won the next five and ultimately got their revenge on France in the final, beating them by seven (87-80).

Following the Tokyo Olympics, a significant change came for US Basketball. Jerry Colangelo, the managing director since 2007, stepped down. He was replaced by Grant Hill.

At the same time, head coach Gregg Popovich left his position as well. "I'm so proud to be a part of this. This is the best feeling I've ever had in basketball," Popovich told the players in the locker room after the final win.

Popovich faced immense criticism throughout the last two years, a feat that was fueled by the disappointing showing at the 2019 FIBA World Cup. In a fiery quote in the locker room, Popovich said: "I would just like to say to all those people out there - how the f**k you like us now."

With Popovich out, Hill had to search for a new head coach for Team USA. It was immediately noted that the new specialist would have to have had previous FIBA coaching experience, just like Popovich did.

Seen early on as the leading candidate, Steve Kerr was hired to replace the San Antonio Spurs legend, whom he played under as a player.

Credit St. Louis Post-Dispatch via Newspapers.com

The talent pool was deep. The issue was getting commitment.

Once again, the roster featured multiple up-and-coming players from the NBA, just like in 2019.

A fringe all-star Tyrese Haliburton, soon-to-be league superstar Anthony Edwards, solid starter Mikal Bridges, New York Knicks standout Jalen Brunson, Lakers fan favorite Austin Reaves, Rookie of the Year Paolo Banchero, Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr. - all solid players, but neither of the names was screaming star power.

Neither of the players, however, had any international senior experience. Grant Hill emphasized that it was a several-year project and that many of the current players on the roster are expected to represent the US in the 2024 Paris Olympic Games as well.

Nevertheless, Team USA was viewed as the favorite to win it all in the 2023 FIBA World Cup.

People who criticized the lineup were quiet for the first week when the US blew out the competition in the first three games. Then, however, they struggled to score against Montenegro, a team that's based on frontcourt play.

After Team USA got the win nonetheless, a game against Lithuania came in.

2023 FIBA World Cup
Second Round vs. Lithuania

104:110 (12:31, 25:23, 28:17, 39:39)

Top Performers
Team USA
Anthony Edwards 35 1 2 Vaidas Kariniauskas 15 4 2
Jalen Brunson 14 4 7 Mindaugas Kuzminskas 14 2 1
Mikal Bridges 14 3 1 Tadas Sedekerskis 11 11 0

The game didn't have much significance for either of the two teams. Similarly to the US, Lithuania didn't have a wide array of their best players on the squad, most notably NBA All-Star Domantas Sabonis.

Unconstrained with pressure, Lithuania got off to a hot start, making their first nine three-pointers. Team USA scored just 12 points in the first quarter and was already facing a 19-point deficit after the first 10 minutes (12-31).

Even though Lithuania led by 17 points after the first half, the US began the third quarter with a 9-0 run to cut their deficit to eight (46-54). However, Lithuania managed to maintain a safe distance from the favorites.

Throughout the final quarter, all of Team USA's attempts to come back were unsuccessful. With four minutes left, Mindaugas Kuzminskas hit a crazy three-pointer, and the favorites could not overcome the deficit.

Vaidas Kariniauskas, who plays for the small town of Mazeikiai in Lithuania, gained social media fame after he mocked Austin Reaves following a successful offensive possession.

Credit Erikas Ovčarenko/BNS

Even though Anthony Edwards scored 35 points in the game, his words about Lithuania as an opponent quickly resurfaced.

"I think we’re gonna win. Our confidence is at an all-time high. We're not really worried about those guys," he said about facing Montenegro and Lithuania. Team USA ended up struggling against both opponents and losing against one.

"They just punched us in the mouth," head coach Steve Kerr said after the game. "They made every shot. They executed it. I don't think it was a case of us not being ready. But them playing perfect first quarter and us understanding how hard we'll have to play to accomplish our goal."

Kariniauskas became a local hero in Lithuania and even received a personal congratulations message from Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda on social media.

"We can't come out and have the first half like that," Reaves told the media. "If it's not now, it never will be. It's win or go home now."

After a breeze against Italy in the quarterfinal, a much tougher matchup came in the semifinal.

2023 FIBA World Cup
Semifinal vs. Germany

111:113 (31:33, 29:26, 24:35, 27:19)

Top Performers
Team USA
Anthony Edwards 23 8 3 Andreas Obst 24 0 6
Austin Reaves 21 2 0 Franz Wagner 22 5 2
Mikal Bridges 17 2 3 Daniel Theis 21 7 2

At the time, Germany was the only undefeated team in the entire tournament. Interestingly, they did it without Franz Wagner on the court since the young Orlando Magic star was sidelined with an ankle injury.

However, the younger Wagner brother returned for the playoffs and was ready to face the challenge of Team USA.

The game between the US and Germany was an offensive fiesta, with both teams scoring at will in the first half. It was the highest-scoring first half (60-59) in the FIBA World Cup since 2002.

The underdogs kept on shooting while the US was in a trailing position more often than not.

Andreas Obst, a career role player in the EuroLeague, had a game of his life. The sharpshooter made 4 three-pointers and was fouled three times when he was attempting one.

Team USA trailed by as much as 12 points in the fourth quarter and suffered their second defeat in the tournament despite scoring 111 points.

Credit FIBA

After the game, head coach Steve Kerr reminded the press conferences of 2002 and 2004 when the Team USA coaching staff and the media alike would marvel at the level the US opponents reached.

"The game has been globalized over the last 30 years. These games are difficult. This is not 1992 anymore. Players are better all over the world. Teams are better. It's not easy to win the World Cup or the Olympics," Kerr said.

Germany used off-ball movement and smart screen to free up their shooters, while the US struggled to adapt throughout the game. While the loss against Lithuania was sometimes seen as a fluke, the defeat against Germany was the first time Steve Kerr faced serious criticism not only from international analysts but from the US media as well.

"We knew he was a shooter, he was a sniper. The gameplan was to take him out of the game, and he ended up getting off tonight. Kudos to him," Anthony Edwards told the media about Obst. "I think we tried. We fouled him a couple of times. I think we were trying, but we kind of gave him free points."

Jalen Brunson, meanwhile, was blunt about his performance.

"Terrible. Plain and simple," the guard, who recorded 15 points and 7 assists, said.

2023 FIBA World Cup
3rd Place Game vs. Canada

118:127 (25:34, 31:24, 26:33, 29:20, 7:16)

Top Performers
Team USA
Anthony Edwards 24 5 3 Dillon Brooks 39 4 5
Austin Reaves 23 5 1 Shai Gilgeous-Alexander 31 6 12
Mikal Bridges 19 9 4 RJ Barrett 23 7 2

Both Team USA and Canada were expected to meet in the final. Instead, they faced off against one another in the bronze medal game.

The spectators in Manila could feel like they were watching an NBA regular season game. The game was free-flowing without much defensive effort, and both squads scored in bunches.

Canada, however, was a slightly better team in the second half and held a lead near the end of the game. Down by four, Team USA had the possession.

In a chaotic chain of events, Mikal Bridges managed to force a foul. Shooting two free throws with just four seconds left, he missed the second shot after making the first one. Bridges himself grabbed the ball and hit a fadeaway three-pointer from the corner to tie the game and send it to overtime.

Led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dillon Brooks, who had an incredible game both offensively and defensively, Canada ultimately went out on top, earning their first-ever medal in their country's World Cup history.

Credit FIBA

Lithuania had shown an example of how to attack Team USA. Canada took it to the next level.

Austin Reaves was notoriously targeted defensively by multiple Canadian players. Meanwhile, head coach Steve Kerr did not substitute the player out, receiving harsh criticism from the media.

"When it comes down to us and this tournament, we put ourselves in a great position. We got to the semifinals, we were right there, but we could not get enough stops. We did not defend well against Germany or Canada. That's the bottom line," Kerr said.

For the first time since the 2004 Olympics, Team USA lost three games in a single FIBA tournament.

"I did not need any reminder," Kerr said about it. "I was on a coaching staff in 2019 when we finished seventh. The United States has not won a World Cup since 2014. It's hard. These teams in FIBA are really good, well-coached, and they have continuity."

During the tournament, three records were broken. When Lithuania scored 100 against the US, it was the most points Team USA had allowed in FIBA World Cup history. That number was broken twice in the next three games.

"We can't get no stops. So, I don't know what we could have done. Our defense is pretty bad," Anthony Edwards summed it up.

Besides lackluster defensive performance, the biggest criticism Team USA faced was roster construction. Most notably, the US frontcourt was exposed in numerous situations throughout the World Cup.

Jaren Jackson Jr., the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year, often got into foul trouble and would spend the last minutes of games on the bench. Walker Kessler, a player seen as one of the best defensive prospects, barely even played.

Meanwhile, Brandon Ingram, a prominent NBA forward who averaged great numbers for the Pelicans the season prior, did not find his role on the team and was sidelined with an illness for the last two games of the competition.

Following the disappointment in the 2023 FIBA World Cup, talks started going on about possibly assembling another squad similar to the Redeem Team. A squad that would feature multiple NBA stars instead of up-and-coming players, a squad that would recapture the glory that was once ubiquitous for US basketball.

To put fuel into the fire, Shams Charania announced that LeBron James is strongly considering the possibility of returning to representing Team USA internationally and that he's already spoken to Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Jayson Tatum, and Draymond Green - all gold medalists in previous FIBA competitions.

Whether the roster in the 2024 Paris Olympics will feature the brightest stars the NBA has to offer remains to be seen.

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