Team USA – photo by Ryan Hurst @RHurstDesigns

As a NBA enthusiast (I’m not really a college basketball fan, like at all), I feel greedy every four years. After the ups and downs of the NBA season, which is now the best soap opera going on today (sorry WWE and other soap operas), you get another month of high quality hoops (well, except for 2004). You take what is essentially an All-NBA All-Star team and watch them do battle with international teams. It’s like drugs for NBA fans.

The NBA season started slowly with the lockout, shortened season, and semi-lousy play early on with so many games in so few days, but fans were just waiting for the playoffs. And those playoffs delivered. Facing another elimination loss in the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics (with Chris Bosh on the mend) LeBron took over. He led the Heat past the Celtics and into the NBA Finals; his third chance to win it all. I kind of felt like I inspired him. LeBron James and Kevin Durant, the top two basketball players in the world, went mano-a-mano. And James finally got the monkey off his back, grappling with Durant for that best player in the world mantle, leading the Heat to his first NBA championship and will forever now be known as Ring James.

To put a cap on 7 1/2 months of basketball which started on Christmas Day, Team USA followed what the Redeem Team of 2008 did, beat a tough Spain team and won the gold. It’s hard to watch Spain play unless you’re used to their style. They’re chippy, some of their fouls are cheap, they’re whiny, and they flop like crazy. But they play with such emotion. Pau Gasol was at times, the best player on the basketball court in Sunday’s Gold Medal game. He played so well that his hardest critic, teammate Kobe Bryant had to be proud. Team USA did what they’d done all Olympics long. They let Spain stick around early and then tried to close the game in the second half. It would’ve worked if Spain didn’t keep fighting back, matching them bucket for bucket. Gasol led his team not only in scoring with 24, but also in assists and rebounds. He was clearly amped. His brother Marc also had an excellent game, only he was in foul trouble from the get-go and picked up his fourth foul in the second quarter. Why Spain’s head coach Sergio Scariolo let him play with three fouls so early in the game was mind-boggling considering the referees were calling fouls seemingly on every possession. If Marc Gasol was able to play in more of this game, there could’ve been a different outcome. He had 17 points on 10 shots and was immovable in the post.

In the end, it was about those two best players in the world. Kevin Durant led Team USA with 30 points and set a Team USA record for most points in one Olympics. He averaged nearly 20 a game for the entire tournament. He also led the team in rebounds with 9. LeBron James had 19 himself with 7 rebounds and led the team with 4 assists. Down the stretch, Spain just didn’t have an answer for either guy. Kobe Bryant, who struggled a lot this Olympics, had a good shooting game, getting tough (and maybe forced) shots to fall, especially from deep. His actual game doesn’t suit the international style as well as it does James’ and Durant’s. When Team USA would get on amazing rolls offensively, it was because James and Chris Paul were pushing the ball up the court, throwing passes that led to easy and open jumpers. When the ball moved and Team USA got open looks, they were at their best. Kobe’s style is to hold the basketball, measure his defender and then take him one-on-one. At times, his play stagnated the offense. But he wasn’t about to change. All was forgiven if he was hitting his shots. And down the stretch, he was making them.

Now that I have no hoops to watch, I’m a little sad. But then I looked at the calendar. The regular season starts again in two and a half months. That’s not a long time at all. These Team USA players barely get to rest at all. And like I mentioned earlier, the soap opera continues. Steve Nash and Dwight Howard are now on the Lakers. Kobe and Pau have two new players who are hungry for a championship. The Heat signed away Ray Allen from the Celtics. But how will they guard LA’s twin towers? Oklahoma City is betting that their young team simply gets better. Boston hopes that signing Jason Terry and drafting young bigs will give them one last run (along with Rajon Rondo continuing to improve). The NBA never sleeps. But this insanely entertaining 2011-2012 season is finally done.

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