If the United States has one more good day on the basketball court, and there have only been a few at the 2019 FIBA World Cup, it will finish in seventh place at this tournament. The Americans have never done worse.
They were better in 2002, when the tournament was contested in Indianapolis and the U.S. finished only sixth at home. They were better in 1990, placing third the last time the nation was represented by a team comprising college players. They were way better in 2010 and 2014, when the U.S. won the gold medal games by a combined 37 points and the games in those two tournaments by an average margin of 28.8.
When the U.S. dropped games on consecutive days to France and Serbia — the latter a meaningless consolation game that nonetheless represents one more failure in this event — there was a temptation to say the rest of the world has caught up to the U.S. Some prominent voices already jumped to that conclusion.
But those were the kinds of statements made when USA Basketball produced two of its least impressive teams ever: at that 2002 World Championship and then two years later in the Athens Olympics. Those catastrophes led to the “Redeem Team” of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant claiming victory in Beijing in 2008, and to all the subsequent dominance: five senior national team tournament victories in a row, most by blowout scores.
Perhaps it was this supremacy that led so many to care so little about this FIBA World Cup.