Their character questioned and commitment belittled, the U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team responded to their critics by taking the bronze with a gold medal effort.
While it will take the American public some time to digest the fact that for the first time since 1992 the U.S. will not return home with Olympic gold, coach Larry Brown had nothing but praise for his team following a gritty 104-96 win over Lithuania in Saturday night’s bronze medal game.
With the gold out of reach after their semifinal defeat to Argentina on Friday, there had been concerns the U.S. team of NBA all-stars had no interest in a bronze and were ready to checkout of their luxury cabins on the Queen Mary II and head home.
But instead, the United States produced their most energetic effort of the tournament, salvaging some pride and a medal.
“This was probably the hardest game I’ve ever been involved in as a coach, I think my players would say the same thing,” said Brown. “I’m proud of the way ours play and they way they improved.
“It was a bitter disappointment to lose last night but to comeback after that loss with the expectations people had for us to play this game tonight is a very good thing for American basketball.
“These guys showed a lot of class and character, I don’t think they have anything to be ashamed of.
“The commitment they made and the sacrifice they made. I on’t know if I’ve ever been more of group of people after tonight than this group.”
A team of mostly second tier NBA all-stars cobbled together after a string of high-profile defections, the squad was stung by criticism as it struggled through its worst Olympics since basketball was introduced into the Games in Berlin in 1936.
An opening game loss to Puerto Rico followed by another preliminary round defeat to Lithuania sparked an outcry from fans at home and around the world who saw the players as arrogant and unwilling to play the team game demanded by international rules.
“You see the way the game is refereed here it’s like a foreign sport,” said Brown. “Tim Duncan fouled out of two games in eight years and every game here he’s in foul trouble.
“Now it’s a world sport and we need to get together and have one set of rules. “