Monday, Nov. 03, 2008

Redeemed Team

Entering the gold medal game against Spain, the U.S. men's basketball squad, dubbed "The Redeem Team," hadn't really been tested. During the previous seven contests, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Co. had smashed its opponents by an average of 29 points, including a semi-final blowout of Argentina, which had to play with little help from its ailing star, Manu Ginobili. The U.S. had already destroyed its final opponent Spain once, and the team's starting point guard, Jose Calderon, would miss the final due to injury. Gold, everyone assumed, would be a mere formality. But reclaiming the world's top basketball prize proved anything but easy. Spain showed up, cutting the U.S. lead to two, 91-89, with eight minutes remaining. Then Bryant got hot and took over. With three minutes left, and the U.S. up five, he hit a three pointer that gave the Americans breathing room, and was also fouled on the play. Bryant put a finger over his mouth, to quiet his critics. Normally, that would be construed as yet another instance of ugly Americanism. But in the heat of a classic game that carried enormous stakes, you could understand, and even appreciate, Bryant's raw emotion. The Americans won, 118-107, to recapture basketball gold.