Olympic basketball has become one of the most popular sports at the summer Olympic games and this summer the story remains the same. The United States will send its 18th team in USA Basketball history to defend it’s gold medal in Rio.

While we’ve gotten used to seeing the best American players from the NBA don the red, white and blue it was never this common. Up until 1989 FIBA had banned and not allowed players from the NBA to represent their countries in Olympic competition. This ruling gave us the “The Dream Team”, Argentina’s 2004 gold medal run and the “Redeem Team” in 2008. As a student of the game, I’ve always wondered what would USA Basketball look like had FIBA let NBA players compete in the Olympic games?

If we’re going to do this, we need a time frame. The perfect time frame to start this would be 1976, it’s on the heels of the ABA-NBA merger and the controversial 1972 Gold Medal game finish between Team USA and the USSA. Where do we end this? We end it in 1988, the final Olympic games with the college kids representing the United States.

There is one elephant in the room that needs to be addressed, the 1980 Olympics in Moscow that the United States boycotted after Russia invaded Afghanistan prior to 1980. Since Carter’s boycott hurt more than just basketball, I’ll go ahead and right a wrong in US Olympic history and include a 1980 team.

Before we get started, I will give myself a few ground rules in constructing these four teams.

Rule No.1: 12 players per roster.

Rule No.2: College players ARE eligible to be on rosters.

Rule No.3: Players will be on a two Olympic limit, meaning nobody can be on more than two Olympic teams.

OK, rules are set. Let’s go make American basketball (even greater) again.

1976 Olympic Team


Starting Lineup

C-Kareem Abdul Jabbar (Los Angeles Lakers)

PF-Bob McAdoo (Buffalo Braves)

SF-Julius Erving (New York Nets)

SG-David Thompson (Denver Nuggets)

PG-Slick Watts (Seattle Supersonics)


Dave Cowens (Boston Celtics)

Tiny Archibald (Kansas City Kings)

Rick Barry (Golden State Warriors)

Artis Gilmore (Kentucky Colonels)

George Gervin (San Antonio Spurs)

Pete Maravich (New Orleans Jazz)

Dan Issel (Denver Nuggets)

Coach: Dean Smith (North Carolina)

1976 Team Notes: The construction of this team was pretty simple, essentially you have the best players of the time at each position and they can plug anybody in the starting five. You may be wondering where Bill Walton is, well as some of you may know Walton was anti-war and did not like his experience on the 1970 FIBA World Championship team. So getting the big redhead might be a challenge but regardless of that, this team should win Gold.

1980 Olympic Team


Starting Lineup

C-Kareem Abdul Jabbar (Los Angeles Lakers)

PF-Moses Malone (Houston Rockets)

SF-Julius Erving (Philadelphia 76ers)

SG-Larry Bird (Boston Celtics)

PG-Magic Johnson (Los Angeles Lakers)


Dennis Johnson (Seattle Supersonics)

Marques Johnson (Milwaukee Bucks)

George Gervin (San Antonio Spurs)

Dan Roundfeld (Atlanta Hawks)

Adrian Dantley (Utah Jazz)

Mark Aguirre (DePaul)*

Darrell Griffith (Louisville)*

Coach: Lenny Wilkins (Seattle Supersonics)

*=College Seniors

1980 Team Notes: The 1980 team would’ve ran through Moscow like some of you reading this run through a Moscow Mule. You have established stars mixed with the new breed in players like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. See, the Olympics should be used to elevate young stars and there’s no better time to do that in 1980 with two players who would change the league and the game for decades to come.

1984 Olympic Team


Starting Lineup

C-Ralph Sampson (Houston Rockets)

PF-Moses Malone (Philadelphia 76ers)

SF-Larry Bird (Boston Celtics)

SG-Magic Johnson (Los Angeles Lakers)

PG-Isiah Thomas (Detroit Pistons)


Sidney Moncrief (Milwaukee Bucks)

Bernard King (New York Knicks)

Adrian Dantley (Utah Jazz)

Maurice Cheeks (Philadelphia 76ers)

Kevin McHale (Boston Celtics)

James Worthy (Los Angeles Lakers)

Michael Jordan (North Carolina)*

*=College Seniors

Coach: Pat Riley (Los Angeles Lakers)

1984 Team Notes: Goliath. The greatest Olympic team ever. While most if not all basketball experts will call the 1992 “Dream Team” the greatest Olympic team of all time, the reimagined 1984 team takes the title here. With an entire starting lineup in their prime including two of the best players on the planet on the same team, it’s hard to beat this team. Oh, and that guy at the end? Yeah, he’s gonna get just a few minutes on this team but he’ll play a vital role for the next Olympic team.

1988 Olympic Team


Starting Lineup

C-Patrick Ewing (New York Knicks)

PF-Charles Barkley (Philadelphia 76ers)

SF-Michael Cooper (Los Angeles Lakers)

SG-Michael Jordan (Chicago Bulls)

PG-Isiah Thomas (Detroit Pistons)


Clyde Drexler (Portland Trailblazers)

Dominique Wilkins (Atlanta Hawks)

Karl Malone (Utah Jazz)

John Stockton (Utah Jazz)

Alex English (Denver Nuggets)

Xavier McDaniel (Seattle Supersonics)

Danny Manning (Kansas)*

*=College Seniors

Coach: Pat Riley (Los Angeles Lakers)

1988 Team Notes: Is this team as great as the others in this feature? No, but do they walk away with another gold? Yes. Not too many flaws on this team, you’ve got defensive stoppers on the wings and in the post. Michael Jordan, the reigning MVP and the emergence of Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley and a duo from Utah that I’m sure will be pretty good for the next 10 years.

Well there you go, four Olympic teams that will surely bring home the gold. Think you can do it better? I dare you