Nation & World

The U.S. men's basketball team is doing us proud once again

BEIJING — "Does Spain stand a chance?" a reporter asked Argentine forward Luis Scola. He knew the answer. Everyone does.

"It's a long shot," he said. "But I don't want to say something, and then Sunday Spain wins, and I look stupid."

Scola won't look stupid. That's what the U.S. men's basketball team is doing to its opponents.

Yes, the U.S. softball team lost and our 4x100 relay teams failed to qualify for dropped batons, but a loss by the men's basketball team would be one of the most shocking sports upsets of all time. It would be Buster Douglas, the 1980 Miracle on Ice and Rulon Gardner rolled into one.

Four years after the crash and burn in Athens, when the Americans lost the gold but "won" the bronze, the U.S. is back. They've earned their nickname – The Redeem Team.

The Americans have won by 31, 21, 23, 37, 49, 31 and 20 on their way to the gold-medal game against Spain, the team they beat by 37 in pool play on Aug. 16. The Spaniards, who beat Lithuania in their semifinal, will have to be satisfied with the silver.

"It's not easy to change that much in eight days," Argentina's Carlos Delfino said, "...and Spain would have to change many things."

Argentina was supposed to provide the Americans their most competitive game of the tournament. The defending gold medalists even might have covered the 19 ½-point spread if San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, Argentina's leading scorer, hadn't aggravated his left ankle early in the first quarter.

The Argentines already trailed 14-4 when Ginobili left with 6:21 remaining in the opening period. But Scola figures Argentina could have kept the final margin to 10 or 12 with Ginobili, who was averaging 20.3 points per game.

The outcome, he admits, would have been the same.

"They're just better," Scola said.

Argentina is responsible for making the U.S. better.

This team was created out of the embarrassment of 2004 when the Argentines beat the Americans 89-81 in the semifinals.

Only four players, including Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony, were asked back.

"The players," Anthony said when asked what the difference is between 2004 and today. "That's the only thing I can say is the players."

It's a completely different team.

Stephon Marbury out. Kobe Bryant in.

Allen Iverson out. Chris Paul in.

Emeka Okafor out. Chris Bosh in.

"You take Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony, and you put Dwyane Wade in; and you put Chris Paul in; you put Jason Kidd, LeBron James, Dwight Howard," Scola said. "I can keep going if you want."

The U.S. team in Athens was a bunch of bickering, overpaid, whiny losers. They had even the most patriotic of Americans rooting against them, though they didn't seem to care.

Dallas Mavericks guard Jason Kidd, the only player on this team with a gold medal, said he quit watching in 2004. This team, he hopes, has made Americans not only proud of their men's basketball team again but eager to watch them.

"You're seeing everybody touch the ball," Kidd said. "You're seeing a kind of college atmosphere, with everyone cheering for one another. It's all about each other, not about 'I.' ... If you had put this team on the court back in 2004, maybe it was a different outcome."

This team has played together three summers, not three months. They have grown together, learned to play defense together and won together. After Friday's victory over Argentina, Team USA huddled at midcourt. Together, they talked about needing one more game to reach their goal.

"This is a team," James said. "We wasn't a team in 2004. We were a bunch of individuals put on a basketball team. We didn't have much time to prepare, and we didn't take care of business and look at it like it was our last game every game we played. It hurt us."

The only thing they're hurting this year are their opponents.