Thirty years ago, the Spanish national basketball team enthralled millions of TV viewers, who tuned in to watch its heroic feats during the Los Angeles Olympics. Reaching the final of those Games was a great achievement for coach Antonio Díaz Miguel’s squad; playing against a United States team that featured a very young Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing was a gift; while holding their own against them was a dream.
Although Spain lost the match 96-65, it won a memorable silver medal. Now the national squad, coached by Juan Antonio Orenga, is getting ready to play as host country in the World Cup, which begins on Saturday, with two more Olympic silver medals, plus a string of golds – including the one it won at the 2006 World Championship – behind it. After the 1984 final, Díaz Miguel said that US basketball was light years ahead of the rest. Thirty years later, Spain goes into this latest tournament with at least as many or even more chances than the United States. The teams can only face each other in a final that already seems foretold, though Brazil, Lithuania, France, Croatia or a surprise team could pose challenges.
The golden generation of Pau Gasol, Juan Carlos Navarro and Felipe Reyes has joined forces with a number of players of the very highest level – Marc Gasol, Rudy Fernández, Sergio Rodríguez, Sergio Llull, Víctor Claver; a couple of geniuses in Serge Ibaka and Ricky Rubio, as well as promising youngster Àlex Abrines, to form the most talented team in Spanish basketball history.
Meanwhile, the United States’ team has been plagued by desertions, injuries and pressure from franchises keen to avoid risking and exhausting their multi-million-dollar players. Even so it has still managed to put together a magnificent squad featuring Derrick Rose, James Harden, Stephen Curry and Anthony Davis, among others. But coach Mike Krzyzewski’s team is at a disadvantage – even in the number of games his players have clocked up in the NBA. The nine members of the Spanish squad who have played in the NBA have accumulated a combined total of 3,223 games in 47 seasons compared with the 3,213 clocked up in 46 seasons by the members of the US team.
And there is one other statistic to take into account: Harden and Davis are the only two players who remain from the team that won gold in the 2012 Olympic final. Spain’s team features 10 of the players who took part in that game.
The tournament begins on Saturday with 24 teams based in four cities – Granada (Spain), Bilbao (the US), Gran Canaria and Seville. And yes, at the start, there is one Dream Team – and this time it’s Spain.