With the Beijing Olympics in the books and part of history, the central focus for the United States -- at least outside of the controversies swirling around Chinese involvement in genocide, 16-year old gymnasts that look 12, and the Georgia/Russia war -- was what will become of the Men's Basketball team, dubbed the "Redeem Team".
The team itself named it such due to the disappointing and embarrassing finish to the 2004 Athens games they suffered, which involved losing three-times. They fell in their opening game to the Olympics to Puerto Rico 92-73, and went on to fall too Lithuania and Argentina. The improbable lackluster showing by the team was most likely a result of not having 10 of the 12 players that were on the FIBA team that had dominated in 2003, and having to fill holes with young players, Carmelo Anthony and Lebron James to name a few.
2004's bronze medal was a far cry from what was expected of the most prestigious team in Olympic Basketball history - the United States has medaled in all fifteen-years of its existence, winning gold 12-times. In 2008, the Redeem Team, featuring some of the same players from 2004 with a few other additions, making up a 12-man roster that looked to be unstoppable and leagues ahead of what was compiled to represent the country that created the sport in 2004, looked like this:
C - Dwight Howard
F/C - Chris Bosh
F/C -- Carlos Boozer
SF - Lebron James
SF - Tayshaun Prince
SF - Carmelo Anthony
SG - Michael Redd
SG - Kobe Bryant
SG - Dwayne Wade
PG - Deron Williams
PG - Jason Kidd
PG - Chris Paul
The Men's team has forged its way through the preliminaries and medal rounds, past teams such as Greece, Germany and Argentina winning by an average of 31.9 points per-game. The U.S. team fought past outside shooting struggles and continually showed its offensive versatility and defensive togetherness which has led them to what they were to accomplish yesterday morning, or evening in Beijing. What they accomplished was victory, which in turn for the 12-men of the United States Men's Basketball team was also redemption. The U.S. team had defeated the Spaniards by 37-points in the preliminary round -- it was nothing like that in the Gold Medal final.
Team U.S.A. started their Olympic journey struggling from beyond the arc, before finally breaking through with a 12/25 showing against Spain. Within the first possession, they made it clear they were past that, and foreshadowed what was to come when Lebron James nailed a three-pointer to give them an opening lead. That lead would be short lived as the likes of Pau and Mark Gasol, Juan Carlos Navarro -- replacing Jose Calderon -- and Rudy Fernandez continually beat U.S. defenders for rebounds, and never allowing a lead to be held creating a back-and-forth throughout the quarter. At one point, Team U.S.A. faced its greatest deficit of the entire Olympics at five-points -- twice. After an opening quarter that was heavily dosed with fouls (16) and lots of scoring, it was looking like U.S.A. was getting into a dog-fight.
Proof of that never was more unshakeable than at the conclusion of the first-half, after Team U.S.A. had shot 8/14 from behind the arc, were shooting well over 60% and Dwayne Wade was putting on a show with 21-points and three-steals, yet, the Spaniards were only down by eight-points, and themselves shooting extremely well. What was the main-stay for the Americans throughout the Olympics defensively was now becoming something they couldn't conjure up at all, allowing the game to be on pace to be the highest scoring affair in Olympic Basketball history. The 69-61 extravaganza was a tell-tale sign of things to come for both teams and the fans in the arena.
Battling past early sloppy play and still, poor weak-side, pick n' roll, three-point and overall defense, Team U.S.A. was clinging to a slim lead throughout the third-quarter, further solidifying that there was no chance of putting this team away like they had done with everyone else before. Juan Carlos Navarro tortured the defense of his opponent's with his improbable tear-drop lay-ups, and the Spanairds continually shot extremely well from behind the three-point line, something they had been the worst at of all the teams at 30% coming into the game. By the opening of the 4th quarter, the lead was still under double-digits for the Americans, and after a 7-0 run by Spain featuring a Rudy Fernandez corner-three, the lead was cut to 91-89, and the tension was stronger than ever before. The idea of defense was lost, what was taking over the mentality of both teams was to make plays. The clutch-performances of both teams were remarkable, as they followed each other's big shots for the entire quarter. After a few Fernandez three's, Kobe Bryant appeared out of the clouds of foul-trouble and completed a four-point play. And showing their true pedigree and desire, Spain fired back with a 5-0 run. Kobe Bryant would then come right back with a sky-high runner, but Spain never failed to fire back and keep it close, even after Fernandez fouled out and Dwayne Wade and Deron Williams hit dagger three's. The only thing that did fail was their composure, after they were tagged with unsportsmanlike and technical fouls that allowed the U.S. to shoot four-free throws in the final minutes and put the last few nails in the coffin, and realize their dream of Olympic gold.
In a game ridden with lights-out shooting and clutch performances across the board of each team's roster, Team U.S.A., Redeem Team was able to bring back what was theirs last in 2000 and what had escaped them in 1972 and 2004. On the back of major performances by Kobe Bryant -- who scored 13-points in the 4th quarter -- along with Dwayne Wade and clutch shots late by various other members of the team, the United States of America was well represented to the tune of a 7-0 run through the Olympic Basketball tournament, and a 118-107 finish against Spain, who got a Silver medal without having their star point-guard Jose Calderon. The game was exciting and so much of a thrill-ride that even at 3:23 AM my time, I wasn't shy about doing a few fist-pumps in celebration of my countries triumph; sadly, I didn't have the energy to get up and shell out a wonderful blog like this. (sarcasm; it's what my mom would say, though)
Congratulations to Team U.S.A. You made your country proud. And you made everyone that has come before you proud as well.