The Sixth Man: U.S. remains on top for now
By John McMullen, NBA Editor
(Sports Network) - Forty years after injustice in Munich and 20 years after the Dream Team spiked interest in basketball worldwide, the United States Men's National Team is again draped in gold.
Led by a core of LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant, the U.S. defeated Spain, 107-100, to claim gold at the London Games, repeating the result of four years earlier when the Americans topped the Spaniards at the Beijing Olympics.
It wasn't easy and it may never be again.
Spain was within one after three quarters until the United States used a 12-3 run early in the fourth to restore order and capture a cushion which ultimately held up.
Durant, the world's best scorer, buried a 3-pointer during the decisive burst and finished with 30 points for the Americans, while the game's best player, James, capped an absolutely brilliant year by adding 19 points, including two key baskets in the closing minutes to help seal the 14th Olympic title for the United States.
In fact James let loose with a hammer and then a dagger, first driving down the lane with a thunderous dunk and following with a 3-pointer, which proved to be the death blow for the Spaniards.
"It's all about the USA," said James after the game. "It's all about the three letters on the chest."
The Americans have now won five of the six gold medals since NBA stars began Olympic play at the 1992 Barcelona Games but as the dominance continues so does the realization that the rest of the world is in the left lane, speeding up at a brisk pace.
Perhaps the collateral damage of the '92 Dream Team, which featured legendary figures like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Charles Barkley, was its impact on the rest of the world.
While Futbol (soccer) is still king outside America's borders, basketball is closing the gap in a lot of places.
Already the U.S. was forced to shift gears to stay on top. After a disappointing bronze medal finish at the 2004 Athens Olympics, USA Basketball set off in a new direction, tabbing Jerry Colangelo, the respected former Phoenix Suns chairman and CEO, as managing director of the program.
Colangelo preached continuity and snared legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski to pilot the team in what is a pressure-cooker of a job. The results have been perfect, the undefeated gold medal run in Beijing followed by another gold at the 2010 World Championships in Istanbul, and finally Sunday's performance in London.
Krzyzewski's reaction after the final buzzer on Sunday was as much relief as exuberance and also telling. Win or lose, "Coach K" is cool as a cucumber with the Blue Devils but failing with the USMNT is just not an option, a mentality which is probably no longer realistic moving forward.
The London Games featured a record number of NBA players toiling for the rest of the world. Spain, for instance, was loaded with the Gasol brothers as well as Serge Ibaka, Rudy Fernandez, Sergio Rodriguez, Jose Calderon, Victor Claver, Sergio Llull and Juan-Carlos Navarro.
You can make a strong argument that the Americans would have blitzed Spain if Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose were available to Krzyzewski, just as people in Madrid are surely lamenting Marc Gasol's foul trouble on Sunday and wishing Ricky Rubio wasn't convalescing from a torn ACL.
The margin of error for the United States grows slimmer and slimmer by the day but the expectations remain.
For now we remain on top.
Tomorrow may be a different story but no matter the result in Rio, you can take pride in the fact that basketball will always be one of America's greatest exports.
08/12 14:59:51 ET