In 2006, the Spanish National basketball team claimed its first ever gold medal in major international competition at the FIBA World Cup, besting a field of 24 teams that included Team USA, Argentina and runner-up Greece.
Three years later, Spain became European champions for the first time by winning EuroBasket 2009, then defended the title in 2011 with another gold medal performance. Meanwhile, Spain made it to the gold medal game in consecutive Olympic games in 2008 and 2012, only to twice fall to Kobe Bryant and the United States.
It’s the greatest stretch of hoops the country has ever seen, and it happened to coincide with Pau Gasol’s prime.
No coincidence there.
Gasol, the best player in his country’s history, was 26 during that initial FIBA World Cup run, and continued to captain and anchor Espana through the London Olympics. With him in the lineup, Spain was Europe’s best team.
But in the just-completed 2013 EuroBasket tournament, Gasol was not able to play, as he focuses on rehabilitation from a knee procedure he had following the 2012-13 NBA season in preparation for the upcoming Lakers season.
Without Gasol, Spain failed to defend its back-to-back titles, falling to eventual champion France in the semifinals before beating Croatia to nab the bronze. Gasol’s younger brother, Marc, performed well in making the all-tournament team, though surely it wasn’t easy missing his big brother, one of the greatest international players in history — one first-inspired by the Dream Team in 1992 in his native Barcelona — that went on to deliver a glory age to Spanish basketball.