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Team USA tops Spain for men’s basketball gold

United States' LeBrJames hugs coach Michael Krzyzewski after United States defeated Spawith men's gold medal basketball game 2012 Summer Olympics

United States' LeBron James hugs coach Michael Krzyzewski after the United States defeated Spain to with the men's gold medal basketball game at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

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Updated: September 14, 2012 6:13AM

LONDON — You can’t blame the United States for
winning the gold medal in men’s basketball. It was basically a given it would happen with this team, which includes Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Kevin Love, Chris Paul and
Carmelo Anthony.

After all, if you can’t beat Spain in a game invented in your own country 121 years ago, well . . .

Yet Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski, the famous coach at Duke, brought up a couple of excellent points to help put the
107-100 victory Sunday against Spain in perspective.

‘‘We will never get to know each other as well as Spain or other countries,’’ Coach K said, meaning the cohesiveness that comes with playing with your countrymen for years and years on a national team isn’t a U.S. tradition.

And he also said, for perhaps the 1,000th time, ‘‘The rest of the world is too good.’’

What you can see if you follow this kind of international play is that Olympic basketball is different from the NBA, different from anything else. A hot team can beat another team — boom! — just like that. And strange things can happen.

How did Spain lose to Brazil in a preliminary-round game, getting outscored 31-16 in the fourth quarter? Did Spain want to lose, so as to get into the bracket where it wouldn’t play Team USA until the championship game? It sure looked that way to this cowboy.

And who can forget the gold-medal game in 1972, when the Soviet Union got three extra chances to beat the United States and finally did 51-50, snapping Team USA’s 63-0 record in Olympic basketball? That game alone showed anything can happen in these kinds of contests, some of it springing from human error and some from, yes, politics.

When I asked Krzyzewski last week if he coached with that Cold War game in mind, he replied: ‘‘I don’t need that game, really. I know that we can lose. We have the utmost respect for world basketball. We can stay in the current culture.’’

That culture would include the 7-1 Gasol brothers, Marc and Pau, plus 6-10, 235-pound Serge Ibaka, who recently was featured half-naked in ESPN The Magazine’s ‘‘Body’’ issue. How Ibaka, a native of the Republic of Congo, got on the Spanish team is anybody’s guess. But there he was. And if that trio isn’t a formidable wall, then it’s hard to say what is.

Still, Team USA ultimately had too much talent, especially in the backcourt and in James, who had 19 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals and is becoming the leader he always wanted to be.

The talent also includes Durant, the skinny swingman with the touch of a watchmaker. He led the way for Team USA with 30 points, making five three-pointers and
9 of 10 free throws.

Then, too, let’s give a major tip of the hat to USA Basketball president Jerry Colangelo and the man he made coach, the respected, unflappable Coach K. Krzyzewski brought together a roster of stars and got them to play together as
a whole.

It all goes back to 2004, when Team USA was humiliated at the Athens Olympics. The United States fielded a chaotic, uncertain squad led by the wrong man in coach Larry Brown.

It wasn’t that the team didn’t have talent — James, Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson were members — it was that it had no idea what to do. Or how to do it.

As noted, the international game isn’t the NBA game.

Krzyzewski is stepping down now. He has done enough, having led the United States to the last two Olympic golds and the 2010 world championship. But the challenge is only going to be greater. Who will replace him? Colangelo says he hasn’t thought about that yet.

But Krzyzewski is a gem. As Colangelo said: ‘‘It’s not that he’s a college coach; it’s that [the pros] respect him.’’

They do — even players such as Deron Williams and Tyson Chandler, who didn’t play much against Spain because their styles bug Krzyzewski.

‘‘We should expect excellence,’’ Krzyzewski said in his swan song. ‘‘The other people can be excellent, too. We’re not going to win all of them. The others are too good.’’

Not during Coach K’s reign, they weren’t.

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