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Redemption Complete: U.S. Wins Basketball Gold

USA player receive their gold medals following their win over Spain in the gold medal basketball game at the Beijing 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Sunday. From left are Carmelo Anthony, Tayshaun Prince, Chris Paul, Chis Bosh, Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Michael Redd, Deron Williams and Lebron James.
BEIJING, Aug 24 (Agencies):
Published on 25 Aug. 2008 1:20 AM IST
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Three years of commitment had come down to 40 minutes of basketball. And on Sunday, the U.S. Men's Senior National Team needed all 40. But in the end, the commitment, the sacrifice and the hard work paid off, and the Road to Redemption reached its golden destination. In one of the best gold medal games ever played, the U.S. held off a spirited Spain squad 118-107 at the Wukesong Culture and Sports Center to reclaim Olympic gold and their spot atop the basketball world. From the start, Spain made it clear that they weren't at their best in their 37-point, pool play loss to the U.S. last week. On Sunday, they went toe to toe with the U.S., trailing by as many as 14 midway through the second quarter, but fighting back and using a 7-0 run at the start of the fourth to close to within two. Wade led all scorers with 27 points on 9-of-12 shooting, scoring 21 in the first half. And the U.S. needed all 21, because Bryant and James were both hit with two fouls early on. Spain led 22-17 midway through the first quarter, but Wade led the U.S. on a 21-9 run to close the period and go up eight. Wade also sparked a 10-2 run in the second that gave the U.S. their largest lead, 58-44. But Fernandez helped Spain get it back under single digits by halftime. At the break, the two teams had combined for 130 points, shooting a ridiculous 63 percent from the field. And as the clock wound down in Beijing, the U.S. players' faces showed how much this gold medal meant. It was the end of a three-year journey. And it was completely fulfilling. The journey began in 2006, after the U.S. fell short at the 2002 World Championships and 2004 Olympics. The U.S. had dominated when NBA players were first allowed to compete in international competition in 1992, showing the world that it had some catching up to do. But slowly, the world did catch up. And after Athens, the feeling was that the U.S. just wasn't made for international competition any more. But Jerry Colangelo wasn't so sure. Had the world really caught up, or had the U.S. just not been at their best? Colangelo wanted to find out, so he changed the way the U.S. approached international competition. Rather than throw a different team together every summer with little time to prepare, Colangelo wanted continuity in his roster. So, with the ultimate goal being gold at these Olympics, he asked for a three-year commitment from his players and staff. And he got it. In 2006, with the program in its infancy, the U.S. fell short at the World Championships, losing to Greece in the semifinals. But the seeds had been planted. In 2007, against a not-so great field at the FIBA Americas tournament, they cruised to a gold medal and a spot in the 2008 Olympics, which would be the ultimate test. With the way international basketball had grown over the last 16 years, this was the most competitive field ever. But the U.S. Team's first seven games were anything but competitive. They cruised to the gold medal game, winning by an average of 30.3 points and never by less than 20. And they did it the right way. They played hard. They played defense. They respected their competition. Most important, this was not just a group of All-Stars wearing the same uniform. This was a team. They played together. And coming coming into Sunday's action, it looked like the world has some catching up to do again. But Spain, playing without starting point guard, Jose Calderon, showed that they can play at the same level as the U.S. Through more than 30 minutes, they match the Americans shot for shot. But when it came down to it, this U.S. Team had come too far, worked too hard and waited too long for this moment to let it slip out of their hands. Those last few minutes were four years in the making. In the end, redemption would not be denied.

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