What is known in Argentinian basketball as the Golden Generation is a core of skilled and loyal players led by Manu Ginobili, Andres Nocioni and Luis Scola. That name stuck because at the 2004 Olympic Games, Argentina defeated the United States head-to-head, and won the gold medal. The U.S. finished third, a humiliating result that soon became a referendum of spacing, ball movement and perimeter shooting in American basketball.
Eleven years later, the NBA champion was a team whose best lineup had nobody taller than 6-foot-8, and took 27 3-point shots per game. A year after that, the NBA MVP was a 6-foot-3 combo guard with a quick release and uncommon range.
American basketball has evolved a great deal since that Olympics in Athens. In part because of advanced statistical analysis and in part because the United States was starting to look old-fashioned in international competition, American basketball changed some rules, emphasized different skills and took greater advantage of the 3-point line.
This took approximately one generation, and our Olympic basketball program was fully modernized.
Or was it? Going into Wednesday, Team USA was undefeated, but its past three wins showed shades of 2004, shades of an all-star team faking it til they make it. Then here came that old nemesis, Argentina, with that annoying Ginobili and pestering Nocioni. You could feel a collective tightening-up, like when a 15-seed makes four threes before the first media timeout in the NCAA Tournament.
Sure enough, the U.S. was down 10 early, but in the end crushed Argentina 105-79, ensuring the Golden Generation would finish with just one gold. This was supposed to happen, obviously. The United States is supposed to win every basketball game it plays.
But here’s the thing: The Americans pounded Argentina with defense, DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Durant. Which is to say the old way — with athleticism, strength and shot-making skill.
There was a poetry to that that I’m sure was not lost on Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury, Carmelo Anthony and the rest of that 2004 squad.
The U.S. moves on now to play Spain in an eagerly anticipated semifinal matchup. And Spain is pretty good. But we’ve still got Kevin Durant.