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Americans get golden redemption

By Marc J. Spears
Globe Staff / August 24, 2008
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BEIJING -- Typically, only a player and a coach are used during Olympic press conferences for team sports. But after coming together as one to win a long awaited gold medal, the USA men's basketball team's entire 12-man roster felt it was only fitting that they all were there side by side with their coach at the press conference.

The United States won its first gold medal in men's basketball since 2000 with a tough 118-107 finals victory over Spain at the Olympic Basketball Gymnasium on Sunday. The Americans have now won 13 gold medals in the sport dating back to 1936. The United States, whose team includes all NBA stars, also went 8-0 in this tournament and won each game by double digits.

"We had to pull together to get this win," said USA guard Dwayne Wade, who scored a game-high 27 off the bench. "If we would have broken off at one moment, the game could have went the other way. We are all happy for each other."

USA guard Kobe Bryant, who had 20 points, said: "Everyone wants to talk about NBA players being selfish, being arrogant, being individuals. But what you saw today was a team bonding together facing adversity and coming out of here with a big win."

The Americans had completely dominated all of their opponents entering the gold medal game, winning every contest by at least 20 points. The US even hammered the Spaniards 119-82 in preliminary action. But that was then, and the gold medal was far from a blowout as a much more confident Spain was ready to play.

"The major difference lied in our mental state," said Spain forward Pau Gasol, who had 21 points in the gold medal game. "In the last match we made some big mistakes... We didn't have adequate confidence."

Gasol's mid-range jumper with 3:32 left in the intense contest trimmed Spain's deficit to just five points, 104-99. But with the Spanish fans going wild, Bryant put his finger by his mouth to quiet the crowd after he nailed a three-pointer and got fouled with 3:10 left. After the 2008 NBA MVP made the free throw, the Americans were up 108-99.

Spain, however, wasn't ready to give up a fight for the gold. A 5-0 run finalized by a Carlos Jiminez three-pointer trimmed Spain's deficit down to just four points, 108-104, with 2:25 remaining. But Wade followed with a three-pointer that gave USA some breathing room, 111-104, with 2:04 left. Bryant's running lay-in with 1:11 remaining put USA up 113-105 and sealed the elusive gold.

"I give respect where respect is due to the Spain team...," USA forward LeBron James said. "They were unbelievable. We had a game plan and they countered our game plan by making some incredible plays. Every possession counted tonight for all 40 minutes. Every possession counted. You couldn't take one possession off, one second off.

"But if it wasn't for the determination and will power that we have in each other, we wouldn't have pulled through and got this win. Much respect to Spain, but the US is back."

As the game clock wound down to the final buzzer, the American players were wildly jubilant as the crowd chanted "USA... USA." After celebrating with hugs, fist pumps, chest bumps, each American player went and shook hands or hugged ex-USA player and NBC basketball analyst Doug Collins. Collins played on the USA Olympic team in 1972 that controversially lost a well-chronicled and criticized gold medal game to the then Soviet Union.

The US players next smiled brightly on the medal stand while waving and blowing kisses to the crowd. They also joined together for a hip USA chant. The Americans stared at the gold medals and kissed them once they were placed over their heads. And once the medal ceremony was over, they showed appreciation for coach Mike Krzyzewski and his coaching staff by taking turns placing all 12 gold medals on their necks for a picture.

Long after the gold medal game was over, Wade said: "We're not done (celebrating). We're going to go in the locker room and really celebrate some more. We were all going around hugging each other."

Kidd was the only member of USA's roster that had felt such bliss before as he won a gold medal in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The 35-year-old became only the 13th USA men's basketball player to win two gold medals and is undefeated while playing for four national teams. The Americans won bronze during the 2004 Athens Olympics.

"For the guys who never experienced it's unbelievable," Kidd said. "I bet you if you ask them right now they've forgotten about getting the medal around their neck because it goes by so fast.

"Everybody was excited. Everybody wanted to take a deep breath. Everybody was getting their shoes signed because it's something, like I told them, that they can never take away from you."

Four USA players that may have appreciated the gold medals even more were Wade, James, Carmelo Anthony and Carlos Boozer. All four were members of the USA's disappointing bronze medal winning 2004 Athens Olympic squad. Wade, James, Anthony, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, and Chris Bosh were also among the USA players that also won bronze at the 2006 World Championships.

"After 2004, we touched base with each other and said we wanted to make a commitment in being part of USA Basketball and try to accomplish something we've never done before, and that's win a gold medal," James said. "Once we came together and said we wanted to do it, we put in our time, we gave up our summers to sacrifice to play the game of basketball, which we love to do.

"To finally go and win the gold medal, not just for us as individuals but for everyone and America means a lot."

Said Wade: "The moment is special. All three of us took time out to just take the moment in."

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