When I was younger, this never happened.

We trounced everyone. We invented the game – how could a group of shaggy Eastern Europeans have a chance? How could anyone stand up to the best of the best?

The first opportunity we had to give our best, we gave it. We threw out not just the best in the country, but the best to ever play. We gave three MVPs. We lined up an impossibly awe-striking array of talent.

Now? For three straight tournaments, we’ve been shamed. We’ve lost. We’ve been beaten at our own game. We’ve strode in, heads held high and egos higher and assumed we’d walk away the champion. Of the world. And we haven’t. Instead, we’ve looked one-dimensional.

We invented the game, but everyone else has evolved the game.

In the beginning of organized soccer, England was the king. England invented the rules, the terminology, the game itself. They conquered the world through war and on the pitch. The sun never set on the Empire, and likewise, it never set on a group of subjects kicking the ball around a field.

They dominated every contest. But as time went on, other teams began to become more skilled. England is always in the running, but Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Italy have evolved the game to the point that it’s no longer a given who will win. In fact, the tables have turned: England is always seen as the dark horse, not the front-runner. Brazil and Argentina control “the beautiful game,” not the country that invented it. Not the country that was naturally supposed to defeat all comers.

This is our soccer. When we fronted our amateurs, the United States won Olympic gold. When we finally stumbled, we were allowed to not just present our amateurs, but our professionals. And we trotted out a starting lineup of Hall of Fame talent, with four of the 10 best players of all time – Jordan, Bird, Magic, Barkley.

We killed everyone. The other teams fought for second. The biggest international star was Drazen Petrovic. Or Detlef Schrempf. Arvydas Sabonis.

Now? The international game has grown to be better. The talent is slowly seeping into the NBA. Players are choosing to stay behind and become superstars in Europe. Meanwhile, the powerful teams are evolving to more of an outside game, and teams like the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks are focusing on athletic, fast, intense players.

When we go to an international competition, we bring 12 of the top 100 players in the league. When other teams get ready, they bring 12 of the top 15. If we are to win another tournament, we can’t depend on young players like Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard. We need to depend on the real superstars.

The only problem is, how do we do that when all of the NBA’s superstars are from other countries?

This was lovingly handwritten on September 1st, 2006