NBA

David Stern’s favorite basketball memories include iconic Olympics

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In David Stern‘s 30 transformative years as NBA commissioner, two on-court memories reportedly stood out. One of them happened to be at the Olympics.

Specifically, the Dream Team at the 1992 Barcelona Games, the first Olympics with NBA players growing the sport into a global game.

“The march to the gold medal stand, being feted like a combination of the Bolshoi, the Philharmonic and the Beatles,” Stern said before transitioning out of the commissioner role in 2014, according to The New York Times. Stern died Wednesday at age 77.

Stern noted two favorite memories, both from 1992. The other: awarding Magic Johnson the NBA All-Star Game MVP honor in the Laker great’s first game since announcing he had contracted HIV.

“When I announced in 1991 I had HIV, people thought they could get the virus from shaking my hand,” Johnson tweeted Wednesday. “When David allowed me to play in the 1992 All Star Game in Orlando and then play for the Olympic Dream Team, we were able to change the world.”

As for Olympic basketball, the key year for Stern was 1985. That’s when Stern and deputy commissioner Russ Granik welcomed FIBA secretary general Bora Stankovic for a New York meeting. But the NBA execs were far from on board with what would come to fruition seven years later.

“David and I thought that global basketball came with as many burdens as benefits,” Granik said, according to Jack McCallum‘s book “Dream Team,” “and that’s what we told Boris.”

In that meeting, Stern agreed to host what would become the 1987 McDonald’s Open, an event pitting the Milwaukee Bucks against an Italian club team and the Soviet national team. Two years later, a FIBA vote allowed NBA players into the Olympics, though the U.S. Amateur Basketball Association (ABAUSA) was one of the “nay” votes.

ABAUSA voted against it because colleges and high schools that made up most of its constituency opposed it, believing it would take Olympic spots away from amateurs. ”I’m not sure the NBA, if it had a vote, would have voted for it, either,” ABAUSA president Dave Gavitt said in 1989, according to The Associated Press.

“We knew it was going to pass,” Stern said, according to “Dream Team,” “but we were absolutely not enthusiastic about it.”

Then came the Barcelona Games. Stern sat near midcourt for the medal ceremony, where some players covered the Reebok logo on their uniforms, either with their jackets or, in the case of Michael Jordan, an American flag draped over a shoulder.

“[Stern] was proud (in general) of the way the NBA players had comported themselves, proud that they never seemed to rub it in (Charles Barkley‘s elbow not withstanding), proud that eight grind-the-other-guys-into-dust routs had been accomplished without an international incident. But he was also a businessman, schooled in the art of the dead, and was disappointed in the flags and the artfully zipped jackets,” McCallum wrote.

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LeBron James’ Olympic stance unswayed by U.S. failure at FIBA World Cup

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Since the U.S. flamed out of the FIBA World Cup two weeks ago, a host of NBA superstars declared some level of intent to play for the U.S. Olympic team next year: Stephen CurryJames HardenRussell Westbrook and Anthony Davis to name the most high profile.

LeBron James stopped short of saying he planned to be in Tokyo in July. He was asked about it Friday.

“Team USA? Um … I don’t know,” James said. “See how I can do throughout this season. I will address that at some point, hopefully have an opportunity to have a conversation with Coach [Gregg Popovich].”

While James was named to a preliminary 35-man national team player pool in April, along with every other top American, he hasn’t publicly committed to accepting one of the 12 roster spots, should he be offered one.

James, who turns 35 on Dec. 30, will be older come the Tokyo Opening Ceremony than all but one previous U.S. Olympic men’s basketball player (Larry Bird). He announced six weeks before the Rio Games that he would skip that tournament rather than play at the Games for a fourth straight time.

But James could be swayed with Popovich taking over for Mike Krzyzewski this Olympic cycle. He has called Popovich the greatest coach in the league and said that the Spurs’ leader’s hiring “factors a lot” into his decision on Tokyo 2020.

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Spain crushes Argentina for FIBA World Cup title

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Spain won its second global title in men’s basketball and its first since 2006, downing Argentina 95-75 in the FIBA World Cup final in China on Sunday.

The Spaniards, who were eliminated from gold-medal contention at the last four Olympics by the U.S. (including in two finals), benefited from the Americans’ early exit last week. The U.S. finished seventh, its worst result ever in a major international tournament, after losses to France and Serbia.

“Whatever is going to be decided or worked out in their house is going to be theirs,” Spain coach Sergio Scariolo said. “But it’s an honor to be above them in the final ranking. I’m expecting them so strong next year.”

But Spain had its own challenge. Its stalwart, Pau Gasol, missed the World Cup due to left foot surgery (and wrote a motivational, thank-you letter to the team before the final). Other veterans from those Olympic silver-medal teams, including Jose Calderon and Juan Carlos Navarro, have moved on.

“It’s just amazing how the whole tournament has been us as a team,” guard Ricky Rubio said. “You can tell, we weren’t the most talented team. We weren’t the bigger team. … We were the team who has the big heart.”

This team, led by all-tournament players Marc Gasol and Rubio, played a turn-back-the-clock final against Argentina, which has one player left from its Golden Generation — 39-year-old Luis Scola.

Both Scola and Argentina’s other go-to man, point guard Facundo Campazzo, were stymied into a combined 3-of-21 shooting.

A full box score is here.

Now Spain will go to Tokyo seeking a first Olympic title after silver or bronze medals at the last three Games. Can a Spanish team, hopefully with Pau Gasol back, take on what will be a U.S. roster with the NBA superstars it lacked in China? Marc Gasol said he wasn’t sure if the brothers will be in Tokyo.

“At this point of the career, you don’t know,” he said. “You want to be there. You hope to be there. But you don’t make any promises.”

Earlier Sunday, France beat Australia 67-59 in the third-place game, denying the Aussies their first Olympic or world medal.

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