Sunday, August 24, 2008

Two Argentinians received their bronze medals in jorts.

The Americans won the gold. The Spaniards won the day.

The United States Olympic basketball team parlayed a 27-point outing from Dwyane Wade and 20 points from Kobe Bryant into a 118-107 victory over the Spain, giving the United States its first gold medal in men's basketball since the 2000 Sydney Games. But if the goal of the exercise -- the underlying mission of the Redeem Team -- was to prove that the United States is still the basketball hegemon, Operation Redeem Team was a crashing failure.

Make no mistake, the United States won gold fair and square. But the margin of victory belied the closeness of the game. Spain proved itself capable of making comebacks on the U.S. Though Spain was young, it demonstrated that it could hang with the finest team the NBA could assemble when both teams were playing balls out. Rudy Fernandez, Marc Gasol and Juan Carlos Navarro proved that they could match their best with the NBA elite's best. That's not to ignore Ricky Rubio, who had 6 points and 6 rebounds at age 17, or Pau Gasol, whom we know to be a superstar.

Spain is extremely talented. Give that fivesome four years to hone their games at the highest levels, and they'll be a formidable outfit. Spain put the United States on notice.

That was heartfelt emotion on the part of the U.S. players at game's end. The medal was in doubt for them, too. Both teams went back and forth, throwing haymakers. Spain refused to let the U.S. put it away. But the United States prevailed because it had better depth. Coach K was able to bring guys like Deron Williams and Tayshuan Prince off his bench, guys who could dominate Spain's bench players. The United States had the luxury of All-Stars for scrubs.

It was a convincing team victory for the United States. But it needed everybody on its roster to win. In four years, facing a better Spanish team, the United States will again need a club of equal ability. The elite American players must again desire gold medals. They may even need to play better than they did this year.

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