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– LeBron James and Kevin Durant helped the United States win its second straight Olympic title with a 107-100 victory over Spain in the final day of the London Games on Sunday.
James stood with both arms in the air, then hugged Durant before they headed to the bench.
They were quite the combination all day long.
James had a huge dunk and a 3-pointer in the final 2:50 and Durant scored 30 points.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance and this was my second time. There's nothing like playing in an Olympics. There's nothing like playing for your country.
"We knew it wasn't going to be easy. We didn't want it easy," James said. "A lot of teams have won gold easy. We didn't want it that way. We're a competitive team and we love when it gets tight. That's when our will and determination kind of shows. It was the same way in '08."
Mike Krzyzewski, who has said he's retiring as U.S. coach, emptied his bench in the final minute Sunday, then embraced James after the final horn sounded. The Americans hugged at midcourt, with guard James
Harden holding a doll of the Olympic mascot.
Four years after beating Spain in the Beijing Final, the two foes met again in another tight one, but ultimately and the United States was unable to truly slow the Spanish down until the closing minutes.
James had 19 points on a day he joined Michael Jordan as the only players to win the NBA title, regular-season MVP, NBA Finals MVP and Olympic gold in the same year.
For Kobe Bryant, it was his last Olympic moment.
"This is it for me," said Bryant, who scored 17 points and now has a second gold medal to go with his five NBA championships. "The other guys are good to go."
Holes to Fill Before Rio
Bryant and Krzyzewski are finished. James isn't sure.
After years of stability, the U.S. men's basketball team will have holes to fill before the 2016 Olympics. The Americans will need a new coach and maybe a new core.
The road to Rio starts around the new year.
"I think we need to decompress and we plan to do that," USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said. "Everything is going to be done over the next few months. I'm looking at the end of December where the future will be clear."
The Americans won their second straight gold medal Sunday, beating Spain 107-100, a game that wasn't decided until the closing minutes when James blasted down the lane for a monster dunk and drilled a 3-pointer. The final played out much like their classic game in Beijing, the Americans pulling away in the closing minutes to push aside a huge challenge by the Spanish.
Unlike that night, the Americans' future is uncertain.
Many key players had already said they would return if asked by the time they played for gold in China. Krzyzewski didn't commit until the following year, after a pizza and wine get-together with Colangelo, though there was already the belief he would be back.
This time, Krzyzewski made it clear he's calling it an international career.
"I am. But I think I can get a great meal out of this. I've already told Jerry, a great Italian restaurant," he said. "The thing I want to do with Jerry, after every competition, we take some time to evaluate everything. In the military, we call it an after-action report. We've done that all the time and talk about what we did, what we could have changed and done better, and in moving forward, what's the next step moving forward. That's how we've done it the last seven years and we will continue to do it that way."
Colangelo said he wants to keep the 65-year-old Krzyzewski around in whatever capacity the Hall of Fame coach chooses. As for who replaces Coach K on the sidelines, Colangelo didn't want to speculate.
"There's been a lot of names thrown out, a lot of good candidates and a lot of people who would love to have it," he said.
Colangelo will have to decide if he wants to stick with a college coach, as he did with Krzyzewski, or return to the professional ranks. The Olympic team coach had been from the NBA since pros were first used in 1992 until he tabbed the Hall of Fame Duke coach in 2005.
Bryant, who will turn 34 this month, is retiring from international play. But the U.S. got a boost Saturday when the secretary general of FIBA, basketball's governing body, said he doesn't foresee the Olympics adding an under-23 age limit for 2016, as the NBA has discussed.
James said he wouldn't play anymore if the age limit was implemented, even if he was granted an exception, because he wouldn't want to play without his teammates. So there's still a chance the Americans could have the game's best player, who would be 31 in Rio, wearing red, white and blue for a fourth straight Olympics.
If James and remaining '08 holdovers Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Deron Williams don't return, the leader of the team could be Kevin Durant, who carried a young U.S. squad to gold in the 2010 world basketball championship and scored 30 points Sunday in the gold-medal game.
"He's 23, he can play a little more," Paul cracked, after asking Durant his age. "I'm glad that I got this opportunity. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance and this was my second time. There's nothing like playing in an Olympics. There's nothing like playing for your country. We've played a lot of basketball over our careers, but nothing compares to this at this level."
While the Americans are still on top, Krzyzewski knows trouble looms just below.
"We know that these teams can beat us," he said. "We know that Argentina is good enough to beat us. We know that Spain was good enough to beat us today, and if we didn't have that respect, we would get beat. And that's why I'm proud of our guys, they recognize that and prepare as well as we've prepared in order to come through in a game like we had today."
The next competition is the 2014 World Cup of Basketball in Spain. The Americans are automatically qualified with their Olympic victory, so there's no need to rush into any decisions.
Besides, they're in better shape than their competitors. Longtime powers Spain and Argentina are getting old and may soon be faced with replacing established stars such as Pau Gasol and Manu Ginobili.
The U.S. has no such concerns. They could probably keep winning with a team that includes Durant and youngsters such as Anthony Davis, the college star who made this team as the 12th man, after Blake Griffin went down with a knee injury. And then there's Cleveland's Kyrie Irving, who impressed the Americans with his terrific play during scrimmages against the Olympic team.
It was only eight years ago that the Americans had such trouble finding players who wanted to go to the Olympics that they ended up with a bronze medal in James' first appearance. Now, he said players will want to continue playing, this group having shown how enjoyable the national team experience is.
What about James himself?
"LeBron is building such a legacy in terms of who he is, his persona, his accomplishments. He's moving himself apart from everybody and that might appeal to him — one more run. Let's wait and see," Colangelo said.
Colangelo, who rebuilt USA Basketball since taking over in 2005, has said he's touched by the commitment players like James and Anthony have shown. He wouldn't be surprised, based on how players feel about it, if they want to keep coming back to do it again.
"They love the whole thing. There's a lot of value to them as individuals. There's great value to the NBA as a league and to the respective teams because of the experience," Colangelo said. "And then, you can talk about it, but until someone goes through this and they experience it, it's very special and how many individuals get a chance to do it in a lifetime? It's hard for someone to give it up if they don't have to."
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.