USA Basketball Has Become By Far The Greatest Fraternity In Sports

It didn't seem like it while it was happening, but losing might be the thing to ever happen to USA Basketball.

Looking back, each major disappointment along the way of Team USA's stretch of three huge letdowns in a row created increased cause for concern that has prompted the rebirth of America's basketball program.

When the team lost the 2002 world championship on home soil, it was embarrassing, but it was also a fluke. When Team USA lost three times at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, it was because the best players weren't there.

When the best players were there, in Japan, at the world championships in 2006 and they still lost, that's when things really had to change, and change they did.

All of a sudden, Team USA was set to enter the 2008 Beijing Olympics with an eight-year drought in major international competitions, and all of a sudden here came Kobe, playing qualifying games against Venezuela and Mexico like his life depended on it.

All of a sudden, Jerry Colangelo and Coach K put together a team that made everyone question whether or not the Dream Team really was the greatest team ever assembled.

All of a sudden USA Basketball -- their exhibitions, their practices and intrasquad scrimmages -- became fun to watch.

Better than UCLA basketball alums, better than Miami football alums and better than every major hall of fame, USA Basketball has now become the coolest and most fun fraternity in sports. Here's why:

International basketball has improved.

With more and more international players playing in the NBA — about one fifth of the league's players were born outside of the United States — teams around the world have gotten better.

Team USA is still the best, but they can't just show up to tournament with any ole squad. That requires better players to participate, which makes the practices better, which makes the games more entertaining and so on.

It gives us something to talk about.

We get the best NBA players coming together in one place: Kevin Durant answering questions about free agency, All-Stars trying to prove they belong and a makeshift All-Star game in the form of an in-team scrimmage.

USA Basketball is a welcome sight in an otherwise dead summer period.

They're always up against the Dream Team.

That makes the discussion of how good each team is (like the Redeem Team vs. Dream Team debate in '08) that much more fun.

The gear is fire.


Between the teams' current jerseys, the Atlanta '96 throwback and Jordan's number nine from Barcelona '92, Team USA has some of the most underrated jerseys in sports.

It's a measuring stick for players.

When Kevin Durant won gold at the 2010 World Championships, it was seen as a big step for him as a young leader.

When DeMarcus Cousins won gold with the US last year, it was a welcomed moment that should help his maturity and professionalism.

USA basketball has become much more important than games against international competition, it's become a makeshift checkpoint in NBA players' careers.

If you can make it with USA Basketball, you've climbed another step on the NBA ladder.

People can get their egos checked.

When players come to play with USA Basketball, they go from being the man to just being another one of the boys.

Only at USA Basketball mini camp could a guy like Russell Westbrook, who was the hottest player in the league by the end of the NBA Regular season, get clowned clowned in practice.

The best come to improve the best.

James Harden said it all.

Everyone wants to be there.

Kevin Love was sitting on the sidelines in a sling. Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony haven't been on a court in ages, but made sure they were at practice. Paul George, who probably suffered the worst injury in USA Basketball history, was there.

Even this guy still wants to be there.

Colangelo says that Kobe told him he'd like to "ride out to the sunset" with a gold in Rio, but he wants to earn the spot, not be handed it — Dave McMenamin (@mcten) August 14, 2015

Everyone wants to be a part of sports' greatest fraternity.

Bonus: Because these moments can happen.