By: Jeffrey Newholm
The gold medal match proved to have as much drama as all of the United State’s previous Olympic matches. Which is to say, not very much, and for not very long at all. The only real concern is if point guard Sue Bird would play (she was held out for the semifinal game due to a knee injury). Once she was cleared, Spain’s chances were reduced from slim to none. The Spaniards hung around for a quarter, but in the second frame the US strung together a small run to get the lead up to 17 at the half. After the intermission, the Americans ran away and hid. Behind another five threes by record-breaking Diana Taurasi and strong shooting performances by Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen, Spain was soon buried by 30. The rest was academic.
Team US was expected to play brilliantly and sweep through the tournament undefeated, and that’s precisely what they did. And what’s most wonderful is that it truly was TEAM US. Taurasi had the best line in the post-game: “This is the best team sport that you can play, and we made it that the whole time. It wasn’t about one person, one coach”. Personally, I think basketball is deserving of this praise. In baseball, only the pitcher and batter are involved in most plays. In football, everyone must play well, but only the skill players get the glory and adulation. For a basketball team to function well, all five men or women must play as one. As soon as a possession ends, the whole team must immediately switch to playing defense. If one player isn’t performing well, the whole team suffers.
For the 2016 American Olympic team, all 12 players were treated as equals. After the final horn, coach Geno Auriemma jumped directly into Brittney Griner’s arms. It didn’t matter that Griner’s Bears gave Geno’s Huskies grief years ago. It didn’t matter that Griner sometimes didn’t play quite her best in this tournament. She was, like her 11 teammates, a valued member of the team. For some players, it was a fourth Olympic Triumph. For others, it was a first. But each woman’s origins or collegiate colors weren’t relevant when the clock hit 0:00 Saturday afternoon in Rio. It was a unique accomplish every participant could feel a part of.
For those who saw some of the ladies’ tournament, I hope they enjoyed an exhibition of basketball at its finest and purest. The NBA is entertaining ball, but it’s become a rather absurd show. Egomaniac stars build superteams with buddies and flamboyantly flaunt their skills. It’s what the fans pay to see, and have come to expect. But with the women’s game still fighting to establish relevancy, the ladies have no time to waste showing off. Geno and his 12 Olympians have again demonstrated that an excellently skilled team, playing with good chemistry and camaraderie, makes for a dazzling spectacle. The 2016 US women’s Olympic basketball team didn’t just win gold. It reaffirmed that basketball, when played at its best, can be a form of art.
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