Senior writer Alex Wolff was at the Olympic Basketball Gymnasium in Beijing for the U.S. men's basketball team's 118-107 victory over Spain in the gold medal game. SI.com caught up with Wolff shortly after the final buzzer.
SI.com: This was a fabulous game, pressure-filled, remarkably tight. How did it play out from your seat in the arena?
Wolff: I had called about a 17-point game, but this turned into a can-you-top-this. It was almost like an NBA All-Star Game, but with a real competitive edge to it. The shooting percentages were phenomenal. Both teams came out of the first quarter on pace for a 140-point game. The U.S. shot 60 percent (38-for-74 from the field) for the game. Spain shot 51 percent (38-for-74). It was just a great demonstration of offensive basketball on both sides. Given the fact that Spain lost by 37 in pool play, I don't think anyone expected this well-oiled performance out of them offensively.
SI.com Now that the U.S. has won gold, did it validate the commitment USA Basketball asked of these guys?
Wolff: This was a three-year project, and I think they caught a real break, quite frankly, when they lost to Greece in 2006 at the worlds because it meant they could not fake their way through it. They had to do the hard work. There was a great moment near the end of the gold medal game where Chris Bosh knocked a missed Spain free throw off the rim, which is a great international play. By the end of the tournament, those guys knew how to play by FIBA rules. Every little subtle nuance, they pretty much had. It wasn't hooked into their DNA quite yet, but these guys are competent if not fluent in FIBA.
SI.com: In the last quarter it looked as if Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade raised the level of their games, especially their awareness of how to attack a zone. How did you see it?
Wolff: It was one of those things where Spain was packed into the zone and either the U.S. makes outside shots or they don't. Between Wade, Bryant and Deron Williams, they made 'em. Kobe even threw in a few dribble drives or hangers -- the trademark Kobe shots that makes. I thought everyone on the team was in rhythm and stroking it. That's what made this team hard to defend. Before the game, I ran into a couple of Spanish friends who work in international basketball. They said Spain would have to play a perfect game to win. There was no margin for error. At the end of the game Spain shot 38-for-74 from the field, which is terrific. They shot 8-for-17 from three-point range, which is darn good. And they still came up short by double digits. That's how high the bar has been raised by the U.S.
SI.com: How would you access the level of play at this tournament?
Wolff: To me, this reaffirms that Spain and Argentina are the two class basketball nations outside of the United States. Lithuania has never finished lower than fourth in an Olympics since they started going to the Olympics as a FIBA independent country. So as far as national team programs are concerned, there was no great reshuffling of the balance of power. There have been have been individual great breakout stories: Ricky Rubio of Spain, Patrick Mills of Australia and Rudy Fernandez of Spain was sensational in this game. He's heading to the Portland Trail Blazers, and it will be a great pleasure to watch him play. But the lesson to me is even as Argentina gets older, they still have a nucleus of veterans. Even as Spain gets older, they have depth. And Spain won the silver without Jose Calderon, who was out with an injured groin. Those two countries have put together these great junior teams. There is a lesson that the U.S., paradoxically enough, had to learn, and they did learn it: You can't just throw a bunch of guys together and call it a team. You have to have a method to it, and over three years the U.S. was humble and did everything right.
SI.com: What was your favorite moment of the Olympic basketball tournament?
Wolff: It happened again and again and again, and it was the sheer weight of the accumulation of that moment made the difference for the U.S.: Dwyane Wade in the open floor. Every time you looked up, there he was coming up with the ball right around the top of the key defensively, and he would be in the open floor and finish somehow. No team had an answer to it. It happened against Spain. It happened in every game.