After decades of dominating international basketball, Team USA finished a shocking seventh place in the FIBA World Cup, its worst-ever showing in a major event.
The result has left many critical of the state of USA basketball, but Gregg Popovich, the team’s head coach, responded to those critics with some strong words of his own.
“Some people want to play the blame game, there’s no blame game to be placed anywhere,” he said, per ESPN’s Brian Windhorst. “They want to play the shame game, like we should be ashamed because we didn’t win a gold medal? That’s a ridiculous attitude. It’s immature, it’s arrogant, and it shows that whoever thinks that doesn’t respect all the other teams in the world and doesn’t respect that these guys did the best they could.”
Kobe Bryant, who won two Olympic gold medals with Team USA in his career, was one of those critics. While he did not explicitly say that the U.S. should have won, he did say that the rest of the world has finally caught up with the U.S.
“It’s not going to be a cakewalk,” he told Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. “The days of the 1992 Barcelona Dream Team are gone, over.”
The team the U.S. put on the court for the FIBA World Cup was far from any dream team, though. There was a lack of star-power, with Boston Celtics guard Kemba Walker as perhaps the biggest star, but he was battling a neck injury and did not even play in the final game — an 87-74 win over Poland to secure seventh place.
Walker was actually just one of four players — Khris Middleton, Harrison Barnes and Myles Turner — on the Team USA roster last summer that did not pull out before the tournament. Players such as Anthony Davis and James Harden were among those who declined to play.
Despite the lack of stars and disappointing result, Popovich was proud of the way his team played.
“Their effort was fantastic. They allowed us to coach them,” he said. “You give people credit for what they did, and that’s it. But it’s not a blame and shame game. That’s ridiculous.”