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Olympics: Spain aims to topple USA in Basketball

Flagbearer Rafael Nadal  of Spain leads his contingent during the opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio on 5 August 2016.
Flagbearer Rafael Nadal of Spain leads his contingent during the opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio on 5 August 2016. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich

Spaniards settled for second best to US NBA stars at the past two Olympics, but Pau Gasol and his teammates hope their third upset attempt is charmed. Outside of the American dozen of NBA standouts, a record 34 NBA players are part of the other teams in this Olympics, five more than in 2012.


Apart from Team USA, Spain offers the most NBA experience at the Rio Olympics with seven active players and three former NBA players in the lineup. Australia, France and Brazil each boast five NBA players.

Argentina has four and only two teams in Rio, China and Venezuela, lack any active NBA talent -- a testimony to the impact of the original 1992 US Olympic "Dream Team."

"Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, David Robinson -- all those guys had so much fun and that's what you envision when you see the Olympics," said US Olympian Kyle Lowry to the AFP news agency. "A lot of people say, 'The reason I started playing basketball was because of the Dream Team'. So I hope that in 20 years some teams will have seen us play in 2016 and that made them play basketball."

Former NBA player Juan Carlos Navarro makes his fifth Olympic appearance for Spain while former NBAer Rudy Fernandez and current Laker Jose Calderon and Gasol play in their fourth Olympics.

Other Spanish NBA talent includes Oklahoma City's Alex Abrines, New York's Guillermo Hernangomez, Chicago's Nikola Mirotic, Minnesota's Ricky Rubio and Philadelphia's Sergio Rodriguez.

Spain would love nothing more than to dethrone the US squad for Olympic gold, having lost the 2008 Beijing final 118-107 and the 2012 London final 107-100.

Spain begins Group B play this Sunday against Croatia. Other preliminary round openers in Spain's group find Argentina against Nigeria and host Brazil facing Lithuania.

US coach Mike Krzyzewski praised Spain's chemistry and teamwork, bonds built over years while the US team only assembled on July 18.

"They are experienced together and that's something our team doesn't have," Krzyzewski said. "There's a brotherhood, a familiarity they have and a pride to play for their country."

Argentina is sparked by San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili and Brooklyn big man Luis Scoia while Brazil's NBA lineup includes Phoenix's Leandro Barbosa, Nene of Houston and Utah's Raul Neto.

The USA tops Group A favorites with China, France, Australia, Serbia and Venezuela.

The French offer Charlotte's Nicolas Batum, Utah's Boris Diaw and San Antonio star guard Tony Parker, who has helped the Spurs claim four NBA crowns.

- with AFP.

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