BEIJING: Kobe Bryant leapt to the defence of the United States basketball team after their failed World Cup campaign, saying on Friday (Sep 13): "The days of the 1992 Barcelona 'Dream Team' are gone."
A Team USA missing their biggest names were beaten for the second time in as many days on Thursday in China and are left fighting for a best finishing spot of seventh.
It is a sorry end to a long reign over international basketball that brought three Olympic gold in a row and two world crowns.
There has been a strong focus on the likes of LeBron James and the other NBA A-listers failing to turn out for their country in China.
But Los Angeles Lakers legend Bryant said in Beijing: "The best players that you think, which is going to make the best players that you can put on the floor, you are still going to have challengers.
"It's not going to be a cakewalk."
The 41-year-old Bryant, who won Olympic gold in 2008 and 2012, added: "The days of the 1992 Barcelona 'Dream Team' are gone so it's going to be tough."
The star-studded roster that rampaged to gold in 1992 is frequently mentioned as one of the finest sports teams ever assembled.
The US, who had one of the youngest rosters at the on-going World Cup in China, now face a threat to their Olympic title in Tokyo next summer.
"It's not a matter of the rest of the world catching up to the US," Bryant warned.
"It's that the rest of the world has caught up for quite some time, to a point now where... we are just going to win some and lose some."
Earlier, a key member of the US team dumped out in the World Cup quarter-finals hit out at "disrespect" and "slander" directed at the deposed champions.
Myles Turner of the NBA's Indiana Pacers made an impassioned defence of Team USA.
Writing on Twitter, the 23-year-old centre said: "We came up short, can't nobodies more upset than us, but I refuse to tolerate any slander for our play, you cannot question our heart, our character or are (our) spirit."
Turner added: "Don't disrespect us, this coaching staff or USA Basketball as a whole, but respect the world basketball is an international game, these countries are talented."