by John Hobbs / Photos courtesy of Mansoor Ahmed
Spain won EuroBasket 2011, yet the 14,500 crowd inside the Zalgirio Arena in Kaunas were chanting “Lietuva, Lietuva” towards the end.
It was an indication that Spain had won the tournament, but the real winners were Lithuania—the spectacular hosts of one of the most unforgettable EuroBaskets in history played in a country where basketball is life.
It didn’t dampen the mood or the celebration for the Spanish, who beat France 98-85 in the final. Like their crushing win over Serbia in 2009, they saved their best performance for last.
France is one of the most talented squads in the world, so them making in the finals was no fluke at all. They had a star-studded team that included Tony Parker, Joakim Noah, Nicholas Batum, Nando De Colo and a host of other players.
But Spain made them look ordinary. There isn’t really any other way to put it—they were a pure joy to watch.
The most fascinating part of it all is that out of the 28 NBA players that have been at EuroBasket this summer, the most valuable player was Juan Carlos Navarro, a man who earns his living playing for Regal FC Barcelona in Spain’s ACB.
Navarro led all scorers in the final with a sublime 27 points, further outlining his brilliance.
“Juan Carlos has had a great tournament, the last three games he has been outstanding,” Pau Gasol said of Navarro. Gasol has played with the EuroBasket 2011 MVP since he was 16 years old.
“This has been the best I’ve seen him [Navarro] play consistently for the last few games, and for the most crucial games of the championship.”
Spain coach Sergio Scariolo commented after their semi final win that Navarro was one of the true artists of basketball, and it was the third quarter in the finals where Navarro painted his final masterpiece. He led Spain to a double-digit lead and gave France little hope.
The big talking points though belonged in the second quarter. There were Spain’s Serge Ibaka’s blocked five shots in five minutes, along with an almost-horrific incident where Parker drove to the hoop and Rudy Fernandez literally pulled the San Antonio Spurs guard down by his neck, whilst in mid-air, forcing Parker to the floor, where he stayed for a while.
An unsportsmanlike foul was called. Parker, who led France on the night with 26 points, played on after a minute-or-so spent on the bench recovering.
“Rudy [Fernandez] I know didn’t mean it,” Parker said. “It was a hard foul, he prevented me from scoring. It’s basketball and I have no beef with Rudy.”
From that moment, the crowd inside the Zalgrio Arena was firmly behind France. When Batum stole the ball from Navarro and thundered home a one-hand slam, it felt like the host nation had just hit a buzzer-beater to win the game. Spain’s lead had shrunk to 46-41, and it felt as though Spain was losing control of the situation.
Pau then stepped to the floor, told his teammates to feed him the ball and let him do the rest. The result: back-to-back buckets giving Spain a 50-41 halftime advantage.
Then it was Navarro’s time to shine. A three from Pau and a dunk in traffic from Jose Calderon was the icing on the cake.
Click through the gallery above for photos of the Eurobasket final.