After waiting an extra calendar year for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, they finally arrived. For the USA’s men’s basketball team, it meant another opportunity to defend the country’s basketball crown, and win a 4th straight gold medal. But, it wasn’t as easy as the past 3 Olympics, where the U.S. breezed through almost everybody. This team had some major obstacles to overcome to get the gold, so let’s find out how they did it.
This story begins during the opt-out/opt-in period for players. This is when star players such as LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Steph Curry announce whether they will be playing in the Olympics. It’s a big commitment. You’re going overseas and not resting during the summer like many players want to. So, when some of the US’ best stars such as LeBron, Anthony Davis, Curry, and James Harden opted out we weren’t surprised, but we thought team USA may be in a bit of trouble. But, some stars did opt-in, and Team USA was still very much the favorite going into Tokyo thanks to having the likes of former gold medalist Kevin Durant, as well as the NBA’s best scorers such as Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, Devin Booker, and Zach Lavine.
With the roster set, Team USA was ready to play in the annual send-off exhibition games versus Nigeria, Australia, and Argentina. And it didn’t take long in these games to realize that USA was in trouble. Game 1 was against Nigeria and, it was disappointing. The Americans looked out of sync, lacking ball movement and making every possession a 1-on-1 matchup. They ended up losing by 3 to a Nigerian team that didn’t even have 1 NBA starter. But, there wasn’t too much panic because it was an exhibition, these guys were gassed from the NBA season, and they were without Devin Booker, Jrue Holiday, and Khris Middleton due to the NBA Finals going on.
However, 2 nights later, Team USA would lose again. This time to an Australian squad that had some solid NBA players such as Patty Mills, Joe Ingles, and one of the best perimeter defenders in the league in Matysse Thybulle. The Americans were able to beat Argentina but, there was still doubt as to whether this team could win gold and not choke like the 2004 Olympic team that only won bronze. So, fast forward a bit, and here they are in Tokyo. It’s pool play time, now the games really counted.
USA’s first pool play game was against arguably their best competition, France. France was loaded with NBA talent including Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, a very good scorer in Evan Fournier, and a solid 3&D wing in Forward Nicolas Batum. The USA and France went back and forth until France made a surge in the 4th quarter led by Nets bench player Timothe Luwawu-Cabarot.
The US couldn’t keep up and they started the Olympics 0-1. Now they were facing the possibility of not even making it out of the group stage. However, the USA got lucky, as the rest of the pool featured Iran and the Czech Republic, which only had 1 NBA player combined between the 2 teams. The Americans took care of business, finishing second in the group. Now it was time for the knockout stage. The US got a tough draw in round 1 due to finishing second, so they played Spain. Spain is a European basketball powerhouse that would easily have multiple gold medals if the US wasn’t so good. Spain was led by Lakers Center Marc Gasol, EuroLeague Star Rudy Fernandez, and a 41-year-old Pau Gasol that was still giving the EuroLeague and Olympics buckets. However, Spain wasn’t the same team it had been in the past decade, so the US was able to breeze by the Spaniards, winning 95-81.
In the semi-final, the US faced the team they had just lost to two weeks ago, Australia. But the US was ready for them this time. The team zeroed in on Australia’s main scorer Patty Mills, and the Boomers had no answer. Kevin Durant could not be stopped, and the US won 97-78. Now they would play for gold, against the team they’d been on a collision course with since day 1, France. Boy was this game fun to watch. Back and forth until the 4th quarter, when Kevin Durant reminded us why he’s a former MVP and Finals MVP. Bucket after bucket, KD could not be stopped. He finished with 29 points, and the US hung on to beat France 87-82. They had made sure to make their country proud and had won the USA’s 4th straight gold medal in basketball.
However, the win didn’t silence some thought that the rest of the world was catching up to the US in talent. After all, this year’s NBA MVP is Serbian, the FMVP is Greek, and the DPOY is French. But, I disagree. If team USA had everyone opt-in, it would be able to boast a starting lineup of Steph Curry, James Harden, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Anthony Davis. That’s 4 former NBA MVPs and a top 3 big man in today’s game. Not to mention the bench would include Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, and Kawhi Leonard, just to name a few. The bottom line is, while basketball is becoming more of a global game, the US still has the most depth and star power, and it will probably stay this way forever.
Either way, congratulations to the US Men’s Basketball Team on the Gold medal, France on the Silver Medal, and Australia on the bronze medal. These Olympic Games may have started a year late this time around, but it was a much-needed reminder that sports can unite a country, even if it’s just for a couple of weeks. For now, we look ahead to the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, and the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris.