Is the Best Professional Basketball Played in the U.s.?

By: Matthew Paolini

A big area of concern surrounding Team USA professional basketball is the very noticeable lack of recent success against international competition. In the quadrennial World Championship tournament, an American team has failed to win the top prize since 1994, and in the Olympics since 2000.

In the 2006 WC competition hosted in Saitama, Japan, the team came in third place, winning a bronze medal. The 2004 Olympics in Athens produced the same result. The 2002 Indianapolis, IN WC tournament did not end well for the U.S., as a team beset by internal conflict placed sixth, the worst showing in history by an American squad in an international tournament.

This situation has caused an orgy of hand wringing and harsh criticism as fans and other observers have taken turns lambasting the "lazy" players for not decimating foreign competition. Suffice it to say that there is no dearth of proposed "solutions" to "fix" the problem. The 2007 WC tournament to qualify for the 2008 Olympics is scheduled to be held in Las Vegas, NV, Aug. 22 through Sept. 2. We'll see what happens then.

There is a consistent theme here -- the U.S. no longer enjoys a huge advantage in hoops. The days are finished when a group of U.S. professional players could just show up and easily batter international opponents. That era ended after the first Dream Team, led by Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, won the gold medal in the 1992 Olympics by many accounts the greatest collection of talent on one team in any sport in history. Now, the international teams, who feature a more pass-oriented, free-flowing version of the game, smell weakness and are more than eager to heap more indignities on the heads of the American players.

This state of affairs causes many to speculate as to whether the finest basketball is actually played in the NBA. Some sports analysts have indicated their partiality for the European-style game. Due to the fact that American teams have been handily thrashed in international competition for the better part of a decade, one would have to be very foolish to dismiss this notion.

Something that many have noted is the fact that the NBA championship team is dubbed the "World Champion." How appropriate is that title? Shouldn't the championship team have to prove that it's the best at what it does in the world?

Would it not be worthwhile to put together a true World Championship series between the NBA and Euroleague champions? The entertainment value, along with global interest in such a series would be tremendous, and the games themselves would serve to settle for once and for all which side of the Atlantic the best basketball is played on.

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