Another golden moment for U.S. basketball
LONDON — This was no Dream Team. This was reality.
The gold medal was in doubt for the U.S. men's basketball team. The Americans led Spain by one point after three quarters in a back-and-forth, impossible-to-turn-away-from game that almost anyone would hope for in an Olympic final.
Especially, it turns out, the U.S. players.
“We knew it wasn't going to be easy. We didn't want it easy,” LeBron James said. “It was the same way in '08.”
Same result, too.
The Americans defended their title Sunday by fighting off another challenge from Spain, pulling away in the final minutes for a 107-100 victory and their second straight Olympic title. And, just like 2008, the Americans had to work for this one.
The Dream Team never had a game like this 20 years ago in Barcelona. If that means this group isn't worthy of comparisons to Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Co., the players had their own response.
“Everybody wants to make that comparison but, at the end of the day, we're both wearing these,” forward Kevin Love said, pulling on his gold medal. “That's pretty good.”
Four years after beating Spain, 118-107, in a classic in Beijing, the U.S. found itself in another tight one. But James capped one of basketball's most brilliant individual years with a monster dunk and a huge 3-pointer in the final three minutes that finally ended a Spanish threat that few expected.
Kevin Durant scored 30 points, and James had 19 on the day he joined Jordan as the only players to win the NBA title, regular-season MVP, NBA Finals MVP and Olympic gold in the same year.
“It was a great year for me as an individual,” James said. “But this right here, it means more than myself, it means more than my name on my back. It means everything to the name on the front.”
Mike Krzyzewski, who has said he's retiring as national team coach after restoring the Americans to their place atop the basketball world, emptied his bench in the final minute. James stood with both arms in the air, then held Durant in a long hug before they came off the court.
For Kobe Bryant, it was his last Olympic moment.
“This is it for me,” said Bryant, who scored 17 points and now has a second gold medal to go with his five NBA championships. “The other guys are good to go.”
It was the 14th gold medal for the Americans, who lost at least five players who might have been on the team when Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Derrick Rose had to pull out with injuries and Blake Griffin was hurt in training camp.
Pau Gasol scored 24 points, and Juan Carlos Navarro had 21 for Spain, which again was a few minutes from its first basketball gold but couldn't finish the job.