‘The Redeem Team’ Defines More Than U.S. Legacy

Redeem Team

The concept of a redeem team, though contrived, felt merited when the term was coined.

The United States men’s basketball team had been the dominant side internationally for decades, only faltering in the 1970s and ’80s to the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. However, since the inclusion of prime NBA talent into the games and the creation of the Dream Team in 1992, meaningful competition at the international level has come to an abrupt end.

“The Redeem Team” documentary, directed by Jon Weinbach, delivered an eye-catching depiction of its namesake after the disappointing loss to Argentina in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. It highlighted the national turmoil around the time, the brilliance of European talent, and more importantly, the grave misconceptions American basketball had of the game outside their bubble.

Pepe Sanchez of Argentina said it best after their win: “It’s a team sport. It’s five-on-five, not one-on-one.”

As much as the documentary revolved around Team USA learning to separate themselves from their lackluster defense and heliocentric offense, developing an identity in teamwork and patriotism in the process, it was portrayed as an epiphany rather than a simple connecting of dots. It all tied together because history said it does. International basketball had been developing and, in the early 2000s, the NBA featured a plethora of emerging stars. As much as the narrative revolved around the NBA against the world, it was primarily the NBA against itself, the international talent proving to be a mere consistent backdrop.

After their fall from grace in 2004, a rudimentary problem at the team-building and coaching front being the primary reason, change needed to be drastic and come from the top down. Coach Mike Krzyzewski instilled the fundamentals within a team that lacked synergy. His background with the army not only added to the gravitas of the occasion but made it clear that the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games weren’t going to be a showcase of a well-oiled machine full of the best talent the NBA has to offer.

Quite simply, it would be Team USA.

The players within the team were an amalgamation of stars. They each had their own narrative within the league that now had to be set aside. Look no further than the incessant debate between Chris Paul and Deron Williams who had to shine together. The likes of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade would flourish in the four years between their fall and redemption, yet they lacked a spirit, an undeterred force.

That force was Kobe Bryant.

The idea, though harebrained, makes total sense. A lone wolf perhaps wouldn’t use his words to bring a team together, but his obsession with his craft was magnetic. The dynamic between him and James only highlighted the space a team had for stars whose personalities contrasted with each other. The inclusive, brotherly personality of James even melted the steely Bryant. It spoke to how synergized ambitions mattered more than personalities or play styles ever would.

The challenges faced on the court this time were greater. The Argentinian side that vanquished Team USA only improve as Manu Ginobili took the NBA by storm. We saw the heralded Spanish side led by the Gasol brothers and sharpshooter Rudy Fernandez.

Team USA had their work cut out for them. However, in each step, they utilized the emotional edge to strategically grasp the game. Byant floored his teammate, Pau Gasol. Coach K showed Wade a cut-out of a headline that listed Ginobili as the second-best shooting guard in the league. It all worked. The games continued as Team USA represented their country with a patriotic spirit like never before. The parts fit together when it mattered; the States brought home the gold in 2008 in Beijing. It was all tied together beautifully with Doug Collins, a part of the USA roster that was seemingly cheated out of a gold medal in 1972 against the Soviet Union. With him on commentary in 2008, the players honored the legacy of the country as a basketball juggernaut.

Within the simplistic narration, what stood out was the essence of Kobe Bryant. In a team of larger-than-life superstars, no one could embody that aura quite like the Black Mamba. There was an unmistakable sense of sincerity in everything he did for the game. The way he impacted those around him lives on to this day.

In a documentary about how Team USA redeemed themselves, we learn that fundamentals made them greater, beyond redemption, beyond comparison.

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