US restores basketball pride
On most occasions they do. In fact, going in to Beijing the Americans had won all but four of the gold medals contested in the event since the Berlin Games of 1936.
With a legacy that includes the fabled ‘Dream Team’ of 1992 featuring Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird , there is always a strong chance of success but the U.S. bandwagon hit a huge pothole in the road when it was beaten by Argentina in the semi-finals of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
And so was born the ‘Redeem Team’, the squad of crack players from the National Basketball Association tasked with restoring American pride and bringing back the gold medal from China four years later.
With some of the highest-paid stars to be featuring at the Games, including Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade, they sent the strongest team possible, but with expectation like that, there also comes pressure.
First up in their Group B qualifiers, was a match-up against the host nation and its iconic player Yao Ming.
Even the former Houston Rocket and a vociferous home crowd could not dampen the superiority of the Americans at the Wukesong Indoor Stadium. The US ran out 108-70 winners on the back of Wade’s 19 points.
They also beat Spain by a handsome 119-82 margin, and it would be the team powered by the Gasol brothers that the States would face again in the final, only it was a whole lot closer second time around.
Bryant weighed in with 25 points as the US beat Australia to reach the semi-finals, where they exacted pleasing revenge on the Argentines courtesy of Carmelo Anthony’s 21 points.
They were paired up against Spain again for the final, and led by the Gasol brothers, Juan Carlos Navarro and the rising star Ricky Rubio the Spaniards proved much tougher opponents.Spain trailed by 14 points in the first half but pulled it back to 69-61 at half-time, before another surge and a three pointer from Rudy Fernandez closed the gap to just two points with eight minutes remaining.
Two key three-pointers from Bryant restored the lead and American confidence, and they closed out the win 118-107 to roars of ‘USA’ from the crowd.. The ‘Redeem Team’ had found their redemption in crushing style.