Pau Gasol exclusive: Olympic final against the Redeem Team 'one of the best basketball games in history' 

Gasol and Spain made Kobe Bryant and Team USA work hard for gold at Beijing 2008. The former Lakers star reflects on that epic final and assesses their place in history.

5 min By Olympics.com
Gasol Bryant Beijing 2008 final crop

Having won all their previous games by at least 20 points, the USA Redeem Team was widely expected to sweep past Spain to men's basketball gold at Beijing 2008.

Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and co had thrashed the reigning world champions by 37 points in group play, and another win seemed inevitable.

In the end, it was anything but. Pau Gasol and Rudy Fernandez combined to move the Spaniards to within two points in the final quarter, and it took some inspired play by Bryant and Dwyane Wade to secure the title for Team USA.

Gasol, who was the tournament's top scorer, told Olympics.com that he was proud to have pushed the Redeem Team and that he felt that his opponents that day were "probably as good or better" than the 'Dream Team' of Barcelona 1992.

"I remember it being a huge fight. Very competitive and very physical throughout. We pushed them to have to play their best." - Pau Gasol on the Beijing 2008 gold medal game

"We gave them a run for their money"

When interviewed back in May, Gasol recounted, "Someone today just told me the 2008 final in Beijing against USA was probably the best sports moment that they ever lived in. So my pride could not fit in the whole city of Beijing. This is what, 14 years later, and this is what we're talking about. Human stories. The story that it creates and the emotions that it creates. The impact it has on the world in different ways.

"You're not even aware of it because you're going through it. You try to do your best. You're trying to win. And, yes, if you do it really well, you win a medal and it's fantastic and you're so proud and you kind of fulfil another dream. But it's really the ripple effect that it has on the world."

Having won the 2006 World Championship, where Gasol was named tournament MVP, Spain were among the medal favourites in Beijing. But a group humbling at the hands of the United States was not in the script.

"I remember it was a great championship. They destroyed us in the group. But that was a good kind of wake-up call for us and to say, "OK, we're going to get to the final and we're going to try to beat them and it's not going to be a game like this." I think they knew that as well, the way that we played and they played."

Wins over Croatia and Lithuania saw 'La Roja' reach their second Olympic final and their first since Los Angeles 1984 when USA emerged victorious by 31 points.

This one was far closer.

"I remember it being a huge fight. Very competitive and very physical throughout the 40 minutes. Back and forth. We never gave up. Obviously, they didn't want to lose and they were the Redeem Team because they had lost in 2004. They had to win.

"Those guys were really, really talented individuals. Some of the best in the history as well. We gave them a run for their money. We pushed them to have to play their best. And they did. They stepped up.

"We made great plays down the stretch. Dwyane Wade had a great game. They all played well. But a lot of people think of that game as the best or one of the best basketball games in the history of the game. So that's something to be proud of."

Gasol on Redeem Team v Dream Team

Comparisons between the Redeem Team of 2008 and Michael Jordan and co at Barcelona 1992 are inevitable. And for Gasol, mention of the Dream Team brings back special memories.

"When I was a 12-year-old in Barcelona, Barcelona hosted the Olympics. It was the first time that the Dream Team got together and played. And it had a huge impact in my life and to a generation of players, not just basketball players. And it inspired me to say, 'Wow, these guys, they they play at a whole other level. Wow, this is amazing. I want to play with those guys,.'

"It made me dream. I think that's a beautiful thing when you can inspire a kid and you can open his or her eyes in order to dream, to dream big and to pursue that dream in whichever way and gives you kind of like a vision. And it gave me a vision and gave me a dream that I pursued, that I felt confident that I could accomplish. I didn't know how, but I was like, 'OK, I'm just going to try to do this and visualise this,' and it kind of happened and I believed it. But those guys in the Olympics had such a huge impact on my life. And probably I wouldn't be here if the Olympics hadn't happened."

As to which of the two teams would win, Gasol thinks the later vintage would come out on top.

"Kobe came and they brought their 'A' Team. I think that was probably as good or better than the original Dream Team." - Pau Gasol

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