Spain Emerges Victorious in 2019 FIBA World Cup: Marc Gasol Achieves Rare History

Jonathan Kim

The major storyline going into this World Cup was the diminished strength of the USA roster:  Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry, and other high-profile names all backed out of the tournament to “focus on the season” or “family issues”.  However, Sergio Rodríguez, Serge Ibaka, Nikola Mirotic and the venerable Pau Gasol didn’t play for Spain, this year’s tournament champions of the FIBA World Cup.

The United States, in other words, was hardly the only team in this competition forced to play without some of its biggest stars.

The difference? No nation in the 32-team field coped with its high-profile absentees and maximized the continuity it did have better than the Spaniards, who brought a halt to the fairy-tale ride of Argentina and its 39-year-old center, Luis Scola, with a 95-75 rout in Sunday’s gold medal game.

In a showdown of the two countries that have consistently played the closest to the United States’ level over the past two decades, Spain scored 14 of the game’s first 16 points and never trailed in a comprehensive triumph at Cadillac Arena.

The victory was Spain’s first world title since 2006. It was also its 25th victory in 28 meetings with Argentina, and it enabled center Marc Gasol of the Toronto Raptors to join Lamar Odom as the only players to win a World Cup and an N.B.A. championship in the same year. Odom did it for the Los Angeles Lakers and the United States in 2010. 

Gasol totaled 14 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 blocks on Sunday. The veteran guard Sergio Llull added 15 points.

“N.B.A. champion and a World Cup champion as well,” Gasol said. “What can I say? How does it sound to you?”

With Scola unable to reproduce the turn-back-the-clock form that had carried a squad uncharacteristically lacking a single current N.B.A. player all the way to the final, Argentina was led by Gabriel Deck’s 24 points.

“Now people are having fun and disrespecting them — I don’t agree at all,” Scariolo said of the United States and its seventh-place finish. “Let’s show respect. It’s an honor to be above them in the final standings, and I’m expecting them to be so strong next year” at the Olympics in Tokyo.

The current Spain and Argentina teams, in truth, are lacking the depth and dynamism of their best teams, which gave some loaded United States rosters major scares, or worse, as far back as Argentina’s surprise run to the gold medal at the 2004 Olympics in Greece.

Scola is the last active player left from Argentina’s so-called Golden Generation, which was headlined by Manu Ginóbili, one of Sunday’s celebrity attendees at courtside, alongside his former San Antonio Spurs teammate Tony Parker and Kobe Bryant.

Spain is also regarded as much weaker overall than it was in 2008 and 2012, when it had legitimate chances to beat the Americans in consecutive Olympic gold medal games. Pau Gasol is recovering from a long-term foot injury and could not play, while the longtime Spanish backcourt standout Juan Carlos Navarro retired in 2018.

The 2019 editions of both teams, though, still oozed chemistry, toughness and know-how. Those are the characteristics United States Coach Gregg Popovich has openly envied in interviews since he began trying to build a cohesive unit out of a potluck group of players that came together in early August.

After helping France defeat Australia, 67-59, in the third-place game earlier Sunday, Evan Fournier of the Orlando Magic said: “When you look at the rosters and stuff, do I really feel like the best two teams are Spain and Argentina? No. But they played better. They won. So they deserve everything they have.”

Argentina felt France’s feelings of defeat soon enough after the final buzzer.  With Ricky Rubio being named the Most Valuable Player of the Tournament, Marc Gasol and Rubio also making the All-Tournament team, and winning it all, Spain has enjoyed an 8-0 path of glory.  It will be only crazier as a revamped USA squad returns to meet them next summer at the Olympics. And what a time that will be.