As a sports fan, you rarely get the opportunity to see the best athletes and competitors of your generation team up to play alongside each other. We never saw Messi and Ronaldo team up during their prime nor did we see NFL players like Tom Brady and Adrian Peterson create an unstoppable duo but the 2008 U.S. men’s basketball team gave us one of those outliers. Kobe Bryant and LeBron James went from the No. 1 and No. 2 basketball players in the world to teammates in the Olympics. The nostalgia and rarity along with the Olympic success from Redeem Team gave us one of the most iconic teams in not only basketball history but sports history.
The Redeem Team documentary, produced by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and The Last Dance producer Jon Weinbach, has been the talk of basketball fans of late. The film takes you through the rise of Team USA basketball from being an embarrassment to being the powerhouse it’s become today.
“I can’t speak for Bron, but I know for me it was very important. We were important, we were leaders of that team. We were the voices of that team with our brother Kobe,” Dwyane Wade tells Complex. “When I was approached by the amazing team that you see that got assembled to do this… I jumped right in because I wanted to make sure that if this story was going to be told, that our voices were a big part of it.”
Prior to the film’s release we sat down with NBA legend and Olympic gold medalist Dwyane Wade along with coaching legend Mike Krzyzewski to talk about the documentary, the competition around the world, and the 2008 vs. 2012 Team USA debate.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
What made you both decide to jump on this doc, anything specifically that you and Bron talked about that made you do it?
D-Wade: Yeah, man, I, I can’t speak for Bron, but I know for me it was very important. We were important, we were leaders of that team. We were the voices of that team with our brother Kobe. When I was approached by the amazing team that you see that got assembled to do this, to be a part of it, I jumped right in because I wanted to make sure that if this story was going to be told, that our voices were a big part of it. Our stories were told the way that they needed to be told.
Coach K: I loved it because it was an amazing story especially the fact that our players Dwyane and LeBron were so involved. All the access that was given to the NBA, we felt comfortable with them. We didn’t know where it would lead so this is one of the places it’s led to. It’s a great documentary. It’s very real and appropriate.
To D-Wade, with social media obviously Kobe and Bron do get a lot of attention from this team, but do you kind of feel like you were under the radar a little bit? I think it’s fair to say you were kind of the MVP of that team.
D-Wade: Do I feel like it? Yeah, I probably did at the time. I mean, I’m on a team with LeBron and Kobe. I, I get it too. You know what I mean? At the same time, I always look at it like this. You have to understand that it’s certain floors in the hotel that you don’t have access to, right? My card don’t go up to where they’ll go up to. I mean, I may stop at the penthouse. They may go a little further (laughs), that other suite higher in a penthouse so I understood that. For me, I was coming off injuries and I was coming off very public personal things going on in my life. The Olympics was just very important for me to reestablish myself and put everything behind me to move forward. And I was just trying to be the best player for that team. And so I had an unbelievable role and my role that I had. I would take it over and over again. I was like Jordan Clarkson for a little while. It felt good.
For both of you. We got a lot of good Kobe anecdotes in the doc. Do you have any Kobe stories that weren’t told in the documentary?
D-Wade: Maybe the first one that comes to mind. And it blew my mind because at that time, I’m 26 years old. Kobe is 30 and Kobe’s the Star. I’m still young enough and coming up, I’ve only been in the league five years. Once I had the conversation with Coach K about, you know, where I was gonna play on the team and I was gonna come off the bench, I think Kobe sensed that, you know, just his innate ability as a leader. He sensed that ‘damn, like this is still D-Wade.’ Like even though he say he cool with it, he wanna be out there with us. And so he came to me and he was like, Yo, when you get in the game and we’re playing together I’m gonna pick up full court and I’m gonna turn my defender around half court, and when I do that, you just come and do what you do.
Coach K: I’ve said so much. I loved Kobe. Not just as a player but as a person and I loved what he did. He was the best player at that time. He understood that. A couple days before practice he came in and met with me. He said I want to play defense. I want to guard the best player. In our first practice he never took a shot. He was so calculated in a positive way to make sure that he fits in. Obviously he fit in very well.
D-Wade: If you notice, I had a lot of steals. I had a lot of guys pressuring and they was letting me play free safety and just allow me to, to run through, come and steal the ball. And that’s why I got a lot of dances and a lot of fast breaks. So to have Kobe Bryant, Kobe, could have told me a young fella, you pick up 94 feet and when you turn ‘em, Imma come in and smash ‘em. Right. But he said, I’m gonna do it. And he set a precedent right there. He set an example that this is not about me, This is bigger than me. I know what you’re great at and I’m gonna put you in a position to succeed.
For Coach K, I saw a side of you I never seen before. You guys were in meeting and I heard f-bombs every sentence casually in a playful tone. Did you feel like you needed to relate to the guys a bit especially with the preconceived notions on Duke and yourself?
Coach K: No, it’s a good point. I think rather Zion, I just tried to be myself. I probably use that language more than people would think. However it’s not a language that’s foreign to competitors and teams. In some ways, it breaks the ice. I didn’t do that to do it, i did it because that’s who I am. I think what happened was everyone became comfortable with who they were real quick. They didn’t have to be the star on the Lakers or the star on the Knicks. They could be that guy. It comes across in the documentary how everyone felt comfortable with each other. They were just themselves and beautifully, it worked. That was a moment in time.
I wanted to get your specific angle cuz you weren’t on 2012, you know, KD tweeted 2012 was the best team ever. Why are you picking 2008? I’ll ask it that way. Why are you picking 2008 over 2012?
D-Wade: Different mindset. You know what I mean? Like talent wise, when you, when you’re talking about the Olympic team, you’re talking about the dream team in ‘92, when you’re talking about the ‘08, you’re talking about… I’m sure I’m missing other teams. I mean, you got Vince Carter and KG and Ray, like you got many teams in the nineties that had some Bad Boys. And you’re talking about 2012, you’re talking about some of the greatest talents we’ve ever seen. So we can all get in the room and talk about why we’re the best. But our mentality that we had was different from anybody else’s. What we had to do, set up 2012 to go out and do what they were doing. Like we had to rebuild the Olympics and we had to go out there and we had to redeem the Olympics. So we had a little bit more on our shoulder, and our mentality would’ve pushed us over the edge KD on your 2012 team sir.
What about the Dream Team?
D-Wade: It depends on matchups, it depends on who gets hot. It depends on a lot of things. So when you’re talking about some of the greatest teams that’s ever assembled, anybody can beat anybody. It’s just the fact that if we talking about one game, everybody like, oh, well this is why we will win. They got Jordan, well they had Kevin Durant, but we had Kobe. I mean, and we had the 30-year old Kobe. We didn’t have the Kobe that they had in 2012.
To Coach K, I know you can’t pick between 2008 and 2012. But in a hypothetical matchup between those two, what would you say are the advantages and disadvantages for both teams?
Coach K: (laughs) Well, it would be bad because some of the guys would have to change uniforms every play because we had five of the guys from the Redeem Team. I would say this, 2012 was as good as it was because of what 2008 did. Our culture for USA basketball was developing in 2008. It continued through ‘10 and ‘12. We had to build a culture and not just a team. Culture needs continuity.
Did it sting for you D-Wade not being on that 2012? I believe you were recovering from an injury.
Yeah, man, I really wanted to, that was gonna be my last one. Obviously winning in 2008 was great, but I wanted to be a part of that team, especially, you know, knowing the talent that was on that team. I mean, they did have James Harden and Russell Westbrook I mean these, these young guys that were coming and kind of like becoming the next stars in the league. And it was, it was like, I’m watching Kobe out there with them. I’m watching Bron out there with them, I’m watching Melo, I’m watching my guys that I played with out there with them and I’m like, ‘man, I’m supposed to be a part of that.’ But at the same time, if I was a part of that, somebody wouldn’t have been. And so it’s all good, man. I got a chance to go out there and support those guys and, you know, I mean, and just, and just see like be proud of the work that we put in four years earlier and to see kind of what they took that work and, and how they took the Olympics to, you know, even a bigger level in a sense. Because of the names and because of the time of the world, Instagram being popular in 2012 and everything that changed, they became like a little more socially bigger than us.
Working with the Nigerian National Team, I watched us beat Team USA in an exhibition and then Australia followed the next night with another win. Do you feel like the world has caught up?
D-Wade: Well, the world is talented when it comes to basketball. You know, I think the game now is not predicated on certain things that it was back in the day. You know, now it is just based on a lot of skill and the world has skilled, you know, everybody can see what everybody else is doing. Everybody can work on the same things. No one is hiding nowhere, really. Right. And so the world, the talent has been caught up. I mean, some of the greatest players in our game are international players. I think about getting an opportunity to go to the Hall of Fame and I look at the list, it’s Dirk, it’s Tony Parker, it’s Pau. It’s three international players. I’m the only American. And so the world has been caught up talent wise. When you put skill versus skill and everybody’s working on the same things and, and they’re working and they’ve been, this is embedded in their DNA, They’ve been doing this for a long time. I mean, it becomes in a sense where you gotta play their game a lot. Yeah. And we have to figure out how to be not only great in our game in the NBA, we have to figure out how to be great in their game and, and vice versa.
Coach K: Well I think basketball worldwide has improved tremendously. The opportunities for the international player have improved tremendously. I don’t think we’ve seen yet the impact of so many international players on the so-called American game. One example would be the eurostep. A decade ago someone was doing that but not in the United States. Or how the big men are playing now. It’s good for the game but it makes it harder for the United States to win in international play. There’s not that awe factor because the great international players are on NBA teams with the guys that are playing for the U.S.
I have to ask you as well D-Wade, was Team USA responsible for the Big Three in Miami?
D-Wade: I don’t know. It wasn’t responsible like we had a conversation like 1, 2, 3 ready break, we gonna do this. It could have been responsible from a standpoint of watching star players feel what success feels like playing with other star players and understanding how they can be. I realized what sacrifice really was and I realized I can sacrifice and play with another star player of that caliber. I think it wasn’t something that we looked at like, ‘oh, I think we can do this at that point.’ But I definitely think it was in the back of our mind like, man, I could play with that dude (laughs). I think it’s a moment that where we all would say ‘man, I wish I had Kobe on my team. I wish Dwight was my big.’ I wish. And now we had it. And so once you got, it was like, man, I like that. And then we got opportunity in 2010 to kind of have that and we took advantage of it.
For you coach, there were think pieces by national writers and whispers that coaching Team USA would give you an advantage at Duke for recruiting, Did that ever annoy you?
Coach K: That didn’t bother me. You know what would’ve really hurt is if we had lost. People always think but ‘yeah, you’re going to win.’ We had not won four of the previous five competitions with USA basketball. Winning internationally is not a given and we learned how to play the international game. The 2008 team made the commitment to do that. That other stuff didn’t bother me at all.
Before we get out of here, I have to ask you a Duke question Coach K? Will you be watching every game this year and watching with emotion?
I will be watching very closely but not to where I’m a hindrance. I really won’t be able to go to a game at Duke because there’s no place to sit where I can be inconspicuous. Jon Scheyer and I have an amazing relationship but he needs to be him. People talk about shoes to fill, you should never try fill shoes except your own. That’s what I tell him. Don’t worry about anything. You be you and you’re terrific. He was terrific for me for nine years as an assistant. We won the 2010 national championship with him being our lead guard so he’s accomplished that.