If the England football team think they get put under pressure to deliver from fans and media, they should try being the United States basketball team.
The defending Olympic and world champions will take on Great Britain tonight in Manchester in the latest stage of their preparations for London 2012, where only gold will do.
The level of scrutiny and expectation put on the team was summed up neatly by Los Angeles Lakers star and 2008 gold medal winner Kobe Bryant.
“With the US team, it’s win the gold or don’t come back," he said. “They will revoke our citizenship.”
Bryant, who is hoping to catch up with his friend David Beckham during the Olympics, added: “It’s much the same as you guys do with your football team. It’s the same with us, but we look at it as an opportunity.
“It’s an honour to represent your country and have your country expect you to win a gold medal. You want them to expect the best of you, and we enjoy trying to deliver that.”
There is a confident swagger about this team, but it has to stop just short of arrogance, with the lessons of 2004 and 2006 — when heavily favoured teams settled for bronze in the Olympics and world championship respectively — still ingrained on the minds of USA Basketball.
“Basketball is a sport where any team can win on a given night,” said forward Kevin Love.
“In the States, in our college tournament and in the NBA you see the biggest teams can get upset on any night, so we need to stay on top of it and bring it every single night.”
The 2012 United States team features five members of the team that won gold in Beijing — the so-called ‘Redeem Team’ following the disappointment of 2004 — and five from the team that took gold in the 2010 world championship in Turkey, a less-heralded unit mockingly labelled the ‘B Team’.
Their depth and experience this year had led Bryant to compare them to basketball’s gold standard — the 1992 US ‘Dream Team’ — and though Bryant has now stepped back from those remarks, Love believes this line-up could prove to be amongst the best.
1992’s Dream Team
“The ’92 team were a very well constructed team, a very well coached team and we’re the same,” he said.
“There are some guys who are hurt that would be on the team now, like Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard, so it’s hard to say because I don’t think the competition to get in was as good as it is now, but if you look at (the 1992 team) from top to bottom it was unbelievable.”
In terms of superstar status, LeBron James shares the spotlight with Bryant, and the Miami Heat forward heads into the Games having finally claimed his first NBA title earlier this year.
With the weight lifted, James wants to cap a great year with another gold medal.
“The (NBA Finals and the Olympics) are both the high standard in my career,” he said.
“This is a great opportunity and I’m looking forward to it. (Gold) is my goal. That’s why I’m part of this team.”
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