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What Went Wrong For The USA Men’s Basketball Team in 2004?


We all know the dark days of Team USA Basketball. The back-to-back garbage performances in the 2002 World Championships and 2004 Summer Olympics, then the loss in Coach K’s first major tournament in 2006.

It was dark, but perhaps the 2004 Olympics was the most embarrassing. The team lost 3 games that year, which is a record for most losses in a single Olympics for USA, got served their largest loss in history (19 points), and their 2nd Bronze Medal in USA History (The 1st came in the 1988 Summer Olympics).

So, what exactly went wrong in the 2004 Olympics? Many people point to many things, however everything seems to point at the coach, Larry Brown, being the biggest issue. But why didn’t Larry Brown fit as the coach?

From all accounts, the coach was stubborn and liked to coach veteran players. This didn’t gel well with the roster considering the oldest player (at the time) was 28 years old. Sportswriter Chris Sheridan backed up that claim saying:

” Larry Brown didn’t like the team. Larry Brown liked coaching veteran players. The oldest guy on the team was 28 years old.”

Players weren’t too fond of coach Brown either. Emeka Okafor (a member of the 2004 Team) had this to say about coach Larry Brown:

 “The team kind of came together at the last minute. Everyone was trying to cater to Coach Brown’s style which is a little bit different to what they would’ve wanted. Coach Brown didn’t really like to play young guys. At all. Even I think LeBron, D-Wade and Melo didn’t play as much. We all played the least, us young guys. […]

Stephon Marbury (also a member of the 2004 Team) was almost sent home because of problems he had with coach Brown and Chris Sheridan explained how that happened:

 “They beat [Serbia] on their home court, but something happened on that trip. Stephon Marbury came over to me and said, “You know, Coach Brown isn’t letting us play. He’s trying to make us play the ‘right way.’ He’s not letting us play, we just need to play.” That night, after that game I was having dinner with the other reporters and assistant coach [Gregg] Popovich and Coach Brown at one of the best hotels in Belgrade and we were telling them the story. And when Larry heard what Stephon had said, he got up and left. Soon after that, Pop got up and left. Then Pop came back about five minutes later and he tapped me on the shoulder and he said, “Can you tell me what Stephon said to you?” and I repeated the story. After that Larry Brown was so incensed that he went to the people running USA Basketball and said, “I want him off the team. I want Stephon Marbury off the team. Now. Put him on a plane and send him back home. Now.” […]

It’s very obvious that the coach and the roster just didn’t fit together, but because of the poor choice of coach, it caused the team to not bond properly. The team only had a week or so to play together before being thrown into the Olympics.

It’s also said that NINE players turned down the offer to play for the team. Richard Jefferson (player on the 2004 team)  explained why players were reluctant to play for coach Larry Brown:

Jefferson: I think Larry Brown tried to use the USA team as a tool. It was when AND1 basketball was going on. He was trying to do something for the game of basketball and trying to put out a certain style of play and a certain style of message versus us just going out there and trying to win games and trying to accomplish things. I remember in the qualifier for the Olympics, he told Jason Kidd, “Hey Jason, I know you’re really good at the fast break, but I want you to stop at the free-throw line and throw a bounce pass to one of the wings.” And you’re sitting here talking to the second all time leading assist guy and one of the most dominant point guards of all time. Truth be told, that’s probably why nine guys decided that they didn’t want to go do the Olympics.

The biggest issue with Larry Brown seemed to be his style of coaching and his refusal to shy away from that. He tried to teach a “spur of the moment” type team a strict set of rules and that made coaching the team much harder.

However, we now know that Larry Brown didn’t like to play young players and that made coaching the team hard since he had young versions of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwyane Wade. This led to much criticism of Brown, but the most displeasure with Brown came after he, more or less, blamed the players for not being “good enough” to absorb his style of play within a month.

In very simple terms, he took the flashiness and fun out of Olympics basketball. He had a very conservative set of rules, which he refused to go against,  and pretty much told an elite player (Jason Kidd) to shy away from flashy plays.

Stephon Marbury probably summed the whole situation up perfectly by saying they simply picked the wrong coach. Larry Brown wanted veteran players and didn’t let players be flashy, so when you surround him with players that are flashy and young, it doesn’t work. That was VERY clear.

Image Credit: Getty Images

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