A Dream Team’s Worst Nightmare
With football’s two biggest international trophies tucked snuggly under the somewhat hairy arm of the Spanish, their basketballing counterparts are seeking to achieve the same level of world domination. Today’s European Basketball Final in Lithuania sees the men from the Iberian peninsula in their third successive gold medal match and the trophy is once again theirs to lose.
Admittedly, European basketball is not exactly the hottest ticket the sporting world has to offer, with ‘Eurobasket’ sounding more like a super market with a vast selection of stinky cheeses & cured meats than the competition to decide which team is crowned King of Europe. But this tournament has attracted some of the world’s best, with NBA finals most valuable player Dirk Nowitzki staring for Germany and three-time NBA championship winner, Tony Parker, leading France to today’s final. The French point guard probably being as well known for his exploits off the court as on it, with his marriage to the actress Eva Longoria crumbling following his dalliances with the wife of a teammate. Eva a desperate housewife indeed, and Tony left with nothing but an empathetic ear from John Terry & Wayne Carey. But enough of athlete’s marital gossip, back to the task at hand.
The focus around international basketball has been intensified recently, with the a pay dispute between the players and owners in America seemingly boxing out the next NBA season. With next year’s Olympics also looming, the stage is set for the worlds best to ply their trade for country as opposed to club. The general consensus is that the American ‘Dream Team’ will send their best players to compete in London and take home what they no doubt consider to be a guaranteed gold medal. But if anyone can knock those jive talking, hi-topped ego’s off their pedestal, it is the basketballing conquistadors from Spain.
Basketball will always be subservient to Football on the Spanish sporting food chain, but it has risen to clearly establish itself as the second biggest sport in Tapas-land. The term ‘Pick & Roll’ no longer just refers to the daily activities of Basque ganja farmers, as the Spanish have embraced their nation’s hardwood exploits. Much of this increased interest has come from the meteoric rise in the NBA of Pau Gasol, who has been an integral part of the Los Angeles Lakers success over recent years. Pau has been prospering in the NBA since 2001, but it was his trade in 2008 from Memphis to the bright lights of Hollywood that has delivered him 2 NBA championship rings. Interestingly, his younger brother Marc, who is also an NBA player, was sent the other way in the trade and has forged a successful career with the Memphis Grizzlies. Despite becoming a regular on the All Star team, Pau’s time in LA hasn’t all been smooth sailing with questions marks over his toughness being raised at regular intervals. He has also copped a lot of criticism for seemingly disappearing in much of last season’s play-offs, where his play at times could only be described as mythical. With his 7-foot frame, grizzly beard and shaggy hair to go along with this mythical status, Pau looked more Sasquatch than NBA superstar. But he has bounced back with some excellent play in this tournament, and coupled with his younger brother Marc, they have formed the most formidable Spanish combination since jamón first teamed up with queso. These brothers from Barcelona have reached celebrity status in Spain, which has been brought about through increasing their profile off the court after laying the foundations with excellent play on it. Although Pau’s decision to promote non-alcoholic beer will do nothing to counter his reputation on as being a little on the soft side. As we all know that drinking non alcoholic beer is not the passtime of any self respecting tough guy.
Commercials aside, the combination of the Gasol brothers and the addition of Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka to the team, gives the Spanish side one of the most imposing frontcourts in basketball and the belief they can mix it with the best that Europe, and indeed the USA, have to offer. They also have some quality guards such as Juan ‘La Bomba’ Navarro and the young prospect Ricky Rubio, who is off to the Minnesota Timberwolves next season. This reflects the improvements Spain have made on the team they were 3 years ago, that lost out to the US in the gold medal game at the Bejing Olympics by only 11 points. Dealing with the likes of Lebron James, Derrick Rose & Dwight Howard will be no simple feat in London. But the Spanish play as a team and are bonded together by more than just the dodgy beards, seemingly sported by every player, which could no doubt get them a guest spot playing banjo for Fleet Foxes.
It is also worth noting that, like the all-conquring ‘Spanish’ football team whose core group hails from Catalunya (Xavi, Busquets, Fabregas, Puyol, Valdes) the majority of their top basketballers are also from that region, giving the St George-loving separatists a bitter sweet taste every time they are victorious under the Spanish banner.
The USA Dream Team are the current World & Olympic Champions, but if Spain can follow up European gold with a gold next year in London, they will have emulated the form of their national footballers and can lay claim to the title of the best national side in Basketball. Against the much hyped and heavily favoured Americans, it must be asked, “Do the Spanish have a chance to win gold?” To that I say, “Does a Sasquatch shit in the forrest?”