Building a Legacy
Team USA delivered, London delivered, basketball now waits.
by John Hobbs / @johnswisshobbs
It went as planned—both USA’s men and women came to the London Olympics with a goal of winning Gold. And it was a mission they accomplished.
But the 2012 Olympic basketball tournament was about more than competing for Gold, Silver and Bronze.
It was about bringing the game of basketball to Great Britain, a country where soccer is king. The 12 teams involved looked to London 2012’s motto of “Inspire a Generation,” which was displayed everywhere in the Olympic Park and even on the rims.
Near sell-outs for both the men’s and women’s Gold medal games. Demand was high for tickets—both outside the venue and even in the media tribune (media had to apply for tickets just to get in themselves).
Having to apply for tickets beforehand will remain a mystery, especially as all games played at the North Greenwich Arena were nowhere near full. Even the Gold medal game had about 3,000 empty seats until they were occupied by volunteers and the Army, who worked as additional security officers at the Games.
It was certainly promising, though, as the fans inside the Basketball Arena and the North Greenwich Arena were enthusiastic. There were lots of NBA jerseys and lots of Great Britain vests among the thousands that flocked to see the games. Great Britain’s men and women were both eliminated in the preliminary stages with a combined one win from 10 games played, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.
Great Britain didn’t come to make-up the numbers, they battled and fought hard. The men, led by the Bulls’ Luol Deng, lost by a single point against eventual Silver medalists Spain and, in their final game, defeated China, 90-58, in a dominant team display. The women unfortunately lost all five of their games but, like their male counterparts, they played with plenty of pride and determination.
“I hope we’ve inspired more people to come and play basketball here,” Great Britain and Blazers forward Joel Freeland said. “I mean, basketball will never be as big or as popular as [soccer] but all we want is for it to catch on. There are basketball teams both in grass roots and professionally in England and indeed Great Britain, so I hope that not just us but all the teams involved here have inspired people that have watched these games to take up basketball.”
“I hope the Brits have taken to basketball. It’s a great sport,” Russia and Silver Stars point guard Becky Hammon said, while being interviewed by the Olympic Broadcasting Service.
The crowds got behind their respective nations—the neutrals that were spoken to by the Olympic presenters said that they were enthralled by the non-stop action. At the end of the afternoon session on day four of the tournament, a father was with his son who couldn’t have be more than 5 years old. He said to his son, “Did you enjoy that?” to which the little boy replied, “Yes, I want to go to the basketball again.”
As a writer, who has covered this sport in countries where basketball is far bigger in terms of popularity, that was extremely uplifting to hear.
“The people here seem to love basketball here in London,” said Tony Skinn, who plays point guard for Nigeria. “I don’t know much about the actual scene here in England but for these Olympics, it’s great to see so many fans and it’s great to be playing in front of them. Personally, I hope we do make a difference.”
What most people have seemed to overlook is that the Olympic Park, where the Basketball Arena was situated was in Stratford, the borough of Newham, which is one of the poorer boroughs of London. The Olympic Park in 2007 was growing weeds, speckled with abandoned homes and caravans. The land seemed to have nothing going for it. But suddenly, it had a future, and the site had plans. The results were truly inspirational—an Olympic Park with eye-catching stadiums, surrounded with fantastic gardens. The crowds flocked in and it was a big success.
All the teams were involved in inspiring the new generation. Most British basketball fans thought that it was just the GB team that was supposed to do that. They were half right, but Great Britain could never do it on its own. They needed help from the other 11 teams, including Team USA.
“I certainly hope that we’ve helped the cause, kind of like what the Dream Team did for most of the world in ’92. The crowds here have been great,” USA and Clippers guard Chris Paul said.
“Basketball has given me a lot of opportunities in life and I’m happy with my life choice and I’m happy playing in the NBA and I’m honored to be playing for the USA at an Olympic Games. Not many people can say they’ve done that,” Knicks center Tyson Chandler stated.
On the court, the USA dominated, as expected. The women had little trouble in retaining their Gold medal for the fifth straight time by crushing France who was just happy to be in the final. Their coach Pierre Vincent aimed for a quarter final birth, and exceeded all expectations by landing on the podium and collecting a Silver medal. Lauren Jackson’s Australia got Bronze, and its 6-8 center Liz Cambage made history by becoming the first woman to dunk in an Olympic women’s basketball game.
The USA men also got Gold in convincing style, although they were pushed twice by their old Olympic foes in Lithuania in the preliminary round and by Spain in the Gold medal game. The finale rivaled that of the contest four years ago in Beijing, which many thought was one of the most exhilarating international basketball encounters in a modern Olympics.
USA’s 107-100 victory over the Spanish in London was a close second though, no doubt. The best game at the 2012 Olympics was saved until last. It was the 2010 World Championship MVP Kevin Durant who stole the show, as he simply could not miss from outside, leading all scorers with 30 points. Pau Gasol played his part, hitting 24 for Spain, but it was Barcelona’s Juan Carlos Navarro who had the hot hand in the first half, scoring 19 points. La Bomba went cold in the second stanza, ending with 21.
Navarro, who spent time in the League with Grizzlies, said he’s happy at Barcelona, a sentiment he’s held for many years now. He is likely to stay in his native country until retirement.
So, both USA sides arrive home with the Gold around their necks; most of their plans for Rio in 2016 are unclear. Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade, who was in London but not playing, have both said they are done. Diana Taurasi is planning on playing in Rio and Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis should be in Brazil, too.
But in the end, all 12 teams in both the men’s and women’s field played their part in “inspiring a generation.” Now, Great Britain must take note of what the basketball players have done, and what the Olympic athletes have done—and start building their own legacy for years to come.