USA vs. Spain: America's Struggle Proves Basketball Is Now Truly a Global Game
America's national anthem played. The NBA's best celebrated Olympic glory. And Spain wallowed after their second-straight gold medal game defeat.
But two simple things were lost in all of the emotion and jubilation.
The U.S. is no longer invincible on a basketball court, and basketball has truly become a global game.
The first isn't exactly surprising.
Team USA failed to win a gold medal in 2004. They only earned a bronze medal at the 2006 basketball World Championships, losing to Greece in the semifinals. And Team USA has been challenged by countries like Lithuania over the last couple of years.
So, it's wasn’t shocking to see the U.S. scrape and claw its way to a seven-point victory in Sunday's gold medal matchup against Spain.
It was close the whole way, as the Spanish took full advantage of their size inside and their excellent game plan to slow down the American athletes. It worked brilliantly too, slowing down Team USA's seemingly unstoppable fast break to a trickle.
However, in the end, their superior talent took over late, and the brilliance of Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and LeBron James saved the day.
But none of those men will ever forget about how difficult the road was.
The close win isn't a knock on those guys at all. They will probably be crucified for their claim that the 2012 Dream Team is better than the original, especially when they only took the gold by a measly seven points.
But it really wasn’t about the U.S in this case. The small margin of victory should be a testament to how far international basketball has come.
When Michael Jordan and company ran through the 1992 Olympic basketball tournament, it was a rarity for Team USA to face even one NBA player.
Now, in 2012, four members of Spain's starting five were NBA players, including a former All-Star.
The same could be said of many of the other Olympic squads. Argentina was filled with NBA mainstays. So were the bronze medalists, Russia. Actually, nine out of the 12 teams participating in the tournament featured at least one NBA player.
This total is made all the more impressive when you consider international stars like Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash weren't even a part of the tournament.
Back in 1992, the best players in the world all played in America—basketball was our game after all.
We invented it. We perfected it. We loved it.
But as it turns out, so do other countries.
There are billions of people in China that are passionate about the game. Actually, every town in China, no matter how small, is required to have a public basketball court, as NBC claimed during the Olympics.
Little kids in Brazil have started to pick up a basketball instead of a soccer ball, and children in small African countries consider players like Dikembe Mutombo national heroes.
Jemal Countess/Getty Images
Sure, the level of basketball across the world may not be on par with the NBA, but it's getting closer.
Professional leagues in China, Spain and Italy are highly successful, and the competition is improving every year. Evidenced by the fact that more and more NBA players like Rudy Fernandez are choosing to play overseas.
There are many things that could explain basketball's surge in popularity, but it’s quite simple really. Basketball is a sport that's easy to pick up, much like soccer, because all that anyone needs is a ball, a net and an imagination.
Plus, it doesn't hurt that it's a high flying game that excites the youth.
But for now, America is still the planet's best at basketball, and it will likely remain so for decades.
However, Spain's performance on Sunday proves the world is creeping closer to America's dominance on the court.
But, even more importantly, it means that basketball is here to stay on the global stage.
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