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Some myths die hard, especially the one about American dominance of world basketball.

The real significance of the American team's lackluster showing in the current Olympic competition is that the country's image has been permanently altered, even if its squad pulls things together and somehow wins a gold medal.

Basketball was invented in the U.S., but signs of gradual deterioration in the level of it's play have been evident for 15 years. After the defeat in the 1988 Olympics, America realized it could no longer rely on college players in top-level international competition.

In the Barcelona Olympics, America fielded a Dream Team of NBA superstars. They captured the fancy of the world but also blinded it to many of the systemic problems that had crept into American basketball.

In 1992, NBA Commissioner David Stern stated that the use of NBA players would eventually help other basketball nations catch up to the U.S. Stern didn't realize just how soon it would occur, or that the quality of his own league would slip while the rest of the world was improving.

American basketball has become plagued by an emphasis of flash over substance, and egotism which has eroded the level of team play. A culture of greed has resulted in a flood of teenage stars, often lacking in fundamentals, prematurely entering the pro ranks. In the process, the level of play in U.S. college basketball, America's traditional developing ground, has been seriously compromised. The situation has reached the point where even an Olympic team with legitimate NBA superstars like Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson is struggling.

It's time to put things in perspective. Basketball is no longer "America's Game," but its gift to the world.