The United States men's basketball team did it again on Sunday. They lived up to expectations and secured another gold medal for American basketball with a 107-100 win over Spain.
But more important than earning Olympic gold in 2012, Team USA set an example for the next generation of players looking to represent their country.
We know Kobe Bryant has played the final game in his Olympic career, but after three trips, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony may not return either. Both guys have redeemed themselves for being part of the bronze medal 2004 team by earning gold in Beijing and London. And if this was their last ride at the Olympics, it was a great one.
Anthony had one of the best offensive performances we've ever seen in the Olympics. He scored 122 points in just 121 minutes played over the eight game run. He shot 50 percent from 3-point range and 57.5 percent on 2-point field goals.
Meanwhile, James made the most of the tournament. Capping off a summer in which he finally won a championship and was named NBA MVP and MVP of the finals, LeBron led the way to a gold medal. He was his typical versatile self and clearly was the engine that kept the team moving.
With Bryant, James and Anthony possibly stepping down, guys like Kevin Durant (who dropped 30 points in the final against Spain), Kevin Love, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis will now step in and become the backbone of Team USA's future.
This tournament run showed that the United States has an incredibly deep group of superstar-level talent who can all also play team basketball. That's the key to winning internationally, and the reason why the U.S. failed at the 2004 Games in Athens.
This year, guys like James, Bryant, Anthony, Tyson Chandler, Chris Paul and Durant really bought into the team concept. They were willing to make the extra pass and didn't care about their own statistics, playing one-on-one basketball or shining on the world stage. Instead they shared the ball and seemed to delight in setting up their superstar teammates. Everyone contributed.
They also took pride in representing their country.
That kind of basketball and that attitude set an example for the next generation of players who were at home watching this year's run.
Photo: Jesse B. Garrabrant/National Basketball/Getty Images