Commentary

World Champion snapshots: Team USA

Updated: September 13, 2010, 3:31 PM ET
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN.com

ISTANBUL -- Here's what it looked like, America, on the night at the crossroads of Europe and Asia when Team USA earned the right to call its country the land of the free and the home of the new world champion:

•  Kevin Durant burying one of his seven 3-pointers early in the third quarter, then turning to the fans in front row clad in the red and white colors of Turkey, pounding his chest and screaming in glee.

•  Coach Mike Krzyzewski standing on the medal podium, getting a gold medal placed around his neck and then staring down at it, flipping it over and looking at it intently. He didn't get one in Beijing, because coaches don't get medals at the Olympics. At this tournament they do, and Coach K certainly earned his.

•  Andre Iguodala walking off the court with one of the cut-down nets draped around his neck, then placing that net over the shoulders of USA Basketball director Jerry Colangelo, telling him it was a gift from the team.

For the first time in 16 years, the Americans won a tournament that is held in higher esteem around the world than it is back home. And they did it forcefully, silencing a stadium of singing, chanting Turks so thoroughly that the whistles that a few fans brought into the Sinan Erdem Dome actually sounded like crickets when one or two were blown midway through the fourth quarter, when it was clear the Turkish team no longer had a chance in what ended as an 81-64 victory Sunday.

"Coach said something to them earlier today about the fact that we beat Spain in Spain, we beat Greece in Greece, we might as well beat Turkey in Turkey," Colangelo said. "And that's what transpired, and it's a great tribute to a young group of guys and some veteran leadership who really stepped up, some of which showed in the box score and some of which didn't. And it was a great team effort, and a great thing for USA Basketball because it got us over the hump."

The hump was 16 years in the making, the U.S. team not having won this tournament since 1994, with the intervening years including some of the darkest nights (three losses in 2002 when it was held in Indianapolis) and lowest moments (the stunning loss to Greece in the semifinals in Japan in 2006) the national federation has ever endured.

The Americans became the first team to qualify for the 2012 Olympics in London, where Team USA will assemble a hybrid of the team that triumphed here and the members of the Redeem Team from the Beijing Olympics in 2008 who will want to defend their title.

Rest assured Durant will be one of them, after breaking out on a world stage and establishing himself, at age 21, as one of the most unstoppable forces on the planet.

He had 28 points on 10-of-17 shooting in the clincher, playing the first 39 minutes and 18 seconds before finally being subbed out when the outcome was assured.

Durant, the MVP of the tournament, was the face and the force that fueled what was dubbed the B-Deem to the top of that podium. Seems fair that we delete that nickname from their collective résumé.

"I think that was everybody's motivation, especially coming from people back in the United States who really doubted us and said it was going to be tough for us to win. We came here and proved everybody wrong," Durant said.

In actuality, it was a tough road to get to where they got. They stumbled out of the gate on the night when they played their first game in Europe. They quickly realized that the international game was going to be much, much different from what they were accustomed to, and they built themselves into a team from there.

They were tested, too, beating Brazil by just two points in the preliminary round. But they stormed through their final four games, defeating Angola, Russia, Lithuania and Turkey to truly earn those gold medals they'll be taking back to the U.S.

"I think it's a tribute to the structure and foundation we have at USA Basketball that we can turn over as many players as we have, over 30, since '06 in the last world championship and be as successful as we've been," Colangelo said. "It's a tribute to the players, the quality of players we have, and Mike Krzyzewski deserves tremendous, tremendous praise for the job he's done. I've never seen anybody stick to it as much as he does. He's organized, he's focused, he sleeps it, he dreams it.

"This is the only thing he hadn't won. He had lost a couple times in the past [in 2006 and 1990], so this is another one for his collection," Colangelo said.

With less than 24 hours to prepare for this game after the semifinals ended close to midnight, local time, the U.S. coaches told the players in their morning meeting they needed to come in and take the crowd right out of it, because the Turkish team, which had captured the hearts of the host country by going undefeated in its first eight games, had been playing off the energy of its raucous fans.

And the Americans did that with their defense, forcing repeated 24-second violations, pressuring the ball and getting up in the faces of Hedo Turkoglu and Ersan Ilyasova to the point where Turkey had more turnovers (10) than field goals (9) in a first half that ended with the Americans holding a 10-point lead, 42-32.

On the U.S. team's second possession of the third quarter, Durant sank a 3-pointer over the zone Turkey employed all night. And on the Americans' next possession, Durant buried another 3 and went into his chest-pounding celebration.

"I was pounding my chest and letting everybody know who we are, the USA team, and that's across my chest, that's who I'm representing," Durant said. "I was in the moment, I was emotional, and Coach K told us in all our meetings to be passionate, to be emotional for everybody on the floor and everybody back home, and that's what I was doing."

Turkey was able to get the deficit down to 11 midway through the third and trailed by 13 entering the fourth -- which was when the rest of the Americans showed that this was not a one-man team named Durant.

Derrick Rose scored twice, Lamar Odom hit a 3 as the 24-second clock expired and drove for a layup, Rose scored again on a drive, and Odom on a putback when Rose missed a free throw on a chance for a three-point play. Just like that, the lead was 22 -- and everyone in the building knew the Turks were finished.

"Russell Westbrook [13 points, six rebounds, three assists, five fouls drawn] really just came out of the pack with his incredible athletic ability and his defense and his high energy. I was really happy for Derrick Rose late in the game when he finally got some confidence back and kind of busted it open, pushing the ball and not only scoring but with some assists. Lamar Odom [15 points, 11 rebounds] did everything we could have asked him to do, and his veteran leadership, and Chauncey's, who struggled with his shot," Colangelo said.

"We didn't collectively shoot the ball as well as we would have liked, but no one else did, either, against us."

The Americans jumped into each other's arms as the clock ran out, then wrapped those same arms around the shoulders of the players standing alongside them as they stepped up on the highest level of the podium to receive their gold medals. They wore looks of happiness and pride, things that had not adorned the faces of a U.S. team at this tournament for 16 long years.

And they earned a basketball-free summer in 2011 for both those who came to Turkey and those who stayed behind, meaning it'll be another two years before Team USA plays again. In the meantime, its members can rightfully call themselves both the defending Olympic titlists and the champions of the world.