London • Let’s get this straight, once and for all: The U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team competing at the London Olympics is no Dream Team.
Even Kobe Bryant thinks so.
The superstar who ignited a worldwide debate on whether the current group of Americans could take down the legendary collection of Hall of Famers who famously won gold at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics said during a jam-packed press conference Friday that he agrees with President Obama and seemingly everybody else — the Dream Team was better.
“He’s right. They are a better team,” Bryant said. “The question was, can we beat them? Yes, we can. Yeah. Of course, we can.”
In their first appearance in London — the team arrived Friday morning from Barcelona — Bryant mocked the roaring debate over his remarks earlier this month in Las Vegas, where Team USA opened its training camp for the Olympics.
But at the same time, he defended his point.
“It was silly,” he said. “The comments were silly. People who think that we can’t beat that team? Silly. … It’s silly, because I didn’t say we were a better team. But if you think we can’t beat that team one time? You’re crazy.”
The question now is whether the Americans can beat France and Spain and Argentina and win another gold medal, after standing atop the podium four years ago in Beijing. They open their competition against Tony Parker and the French on Sunday, with Argentina, Nigeria, Lithuania and Tunisia also in their preliminary group.
“We’re a very close-knit group, we have great camaraderie,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Hopefully we’ll continue to improve during pool play and be at our best in the medal round.”
The Americans won all five of their exhibition games heading into London, by an average of nearly 27 points.
Bryant, LeBron James and center Tyson Chandler have been the only consistent starters, as coach Mike Krzyzewski has sought to develop depth, versatility and chemistry with a roster long on athleticism but short on size inside.
Center Dwight Howard and forward Chris Bosh are among the key contributors from Beijing who did not make the team because of injuries, along with guard Dwyane Wade.
Nevertheless, the Americans averaged 99.4 points during their exhibition tour, and were really tested only by Manu Ginobili and Argentina before escaping with an 86-80 victory last weekend.
The players said they still expect the biggest challenge to come from Spain, the silver medalist in 2008 armed with 7-foot brothers Pau and Marc Gasol, along with Serge Ibaka and Rudy Fernandez.
The Americans beat Spain 100-78 in their last exhibition Tuesday in Barcelona, pulling away easily in the fourth quarter. But Marc Gasol and point guard Sergio Rodriguez did not play in that game while recovering from injuries.
“We all go out to dinner and you see the Spain fans come up to us and say, ‘It’s not going to be like that in the Olympics, it’s going to be a lot different,’ ” Carmelo Anthony said, smiling. “They were giving us some trash-talking. … It’s just all fun.”
Speaking of fun, point guard Deron Williams had a little at the expense of a Spanish reporter who did his part at the press conference to keep up the debate by asking if the Dream Team is back.
“Where?” Williams responded, with mock surprise. “Are they here? Michael Jordan and them?”
When he eventually gave up the gag, Williams answered the question plainly.
“We’re not the Dream Team,” he said. “The Dream Team was in ’92. We’re just the 2012 Olympic Team. It’s kind of unfair to compare us to them. That’s probably the best team that’s been on one court, and we’re still so young in our careers to even be compared to that team. We have a lot of work ahead of us.”
Team USA schedule
Sunday • France
Tuesday • Tunisia
Aug. 2 • Nigeria
Aug. 4 • Lithuania
Aug. 6 • Argentina
Aug. 8 • Quarterfinals
Aug. 10 • Semifinals
Aug. 12 • Gold-medal game