BEIJING -- As defending men's basketball champions, the Argentines had hoped to repeat. That's only natural.
But they seemed very happy to be leaving here with the bronze, which they earned via an 87-75 conquest of Lithuania. "The bronze is better than nothing," reasoned center Fabricio Oberto (San Antonio Spurs). "It would not be good to make a 35-hour flight home and arrived empty-handed."
It has been a marvelous six-year run for the 33-year old Oberto and friends. Oberto and the core group consisting of Manu Ginobili (age 31), Carlos Delfino (age 35), Andres Nocioni (age 28) and Luis Scola (age 28) have won a World Championship silver medal (2002, Indianapolis), an Olympic gold (2004, Athens), and now an Olympic bronze here, while losing the bronze medal game in the Tokyo Worlds in 2006.
And, of course, they will always have the distinctiion of being the first team to defeat a club with the letters "USA" on the front of the jersey in the era of professional participation in these championships. They did so with the earth-shaking conquest of the Americans six years ago in Indianapolis.
The question now is whether or not the end for this group is here, or whether we'll see this bunch two years hence in Turkey. If we don't, they have created some great memories for themselves.
"I am very proud to have been a part of this team," Oberto said. "What I'm proudest of is that we brought heart, dispipline and a love of the game to every game we've played over the years."
Former NBA center John Amaechi, here as a commentator, is a big fan of the Argentines. "They have a great legacy. They raised the profile of non-American basketball," he says. "They shattered the invincibility of American basketball."
Argentina hasn't always been lucky in these tournaments. After defeating America in 2002, they arrived in the championshi[p game without Ginobili, who had injured his ankle. Oberto broke his hand in the semifinal game of the Athens Olymlics and was not availble for the Finals. And Ginobili was not even suited up on Sunday because he had re-injured the ankle that hampered him in the 2008 NBA playoffs during Argentina's quarterfinal triumph over Greece.
But they played a very nice game without him to get that bronze medal. "A team that has won gold doesn't want to go home without any medal," pointed out Amaechi. "You know," he said, "I'm no (hoop) junkie, but I love this team. They truly did want it more than Lithuania."...
China had the most golds with 51 and the USA had the most total medals with 110, but the unofficial winner was the old USSR, which accounted for a staggering 171 medals. If there still was a USSR, which there isn't.
Oh, I know it's a bogus argument, because if all the former members of the Soviet Union were back under the USSR aegis, they'd be competing for a spot on the big team and there would be fewer medal opportunities. Hey, don't mess me up with logic, OK? I've got my little premise and I'm sticking to it.
So...the Russian Federation (still the world's biggest country with 11 time zones) bagged 23 golds, 21 silvers and 28 bronzes for 72 medals. And then the 13 former members of the USSR now flying their own flags -- the Baltic countries, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Moldova and all those indistinguishable (except to people at the Kennedy School and at Tufts) "Stans," hauled in 99 more medals (20-24-55) for a grand total of 172.
Hoist one in Khruschev's memory, why don't you?