On the final day of the Olympics in London, the latest generation of NBA stars proved they have arrived, once again defeating Spain.
LeBron James completed one of the most dominant years in basketball history as he was awarded the the 2012 MVP, was named the Finals MVP, captured his first NBA championship and led the United States to a 107-100 victory Sunday.
The only other player in league history to accomplish the feat was Michael Jordan.
On the same day Kobe Bryant announced he had played his last Olympic contest, he essentially passed the torch to James as the most dominant player in the world.
Bryant was unquestionably the primary crunch time option during the gold medal run in Beijing, but with Spain threatening, there was no question which player would be making the critical plays.
Much like the contest in 2008, Spain was able to keep pace with the sixth incarnation of the Dream Team and was in position to capture the first men’s basketball gold medal in the countries history.
Pau Gasol scored 15 points in third quarter, part of a 24 point effort. Gasol scored the first 13 points of the third for Spain, giving his team a 71-70 advantage midway through the period.
By implementing a box and one defense, a tactic where four defenders played zone and one shadowed a specific player, Spain was able to confuse Team USA’s offensive attack and force contested jumpers.
The tactic was effective, keeping Spain within six until James checked back into the game with just over three minutes remaining.
Once James stepped back onto the court, no defensive strategy could prevent him from securing the second gold medal of his career.
A pump fake shook off two defenders, leaving the rim unprotected and James sent down a one handed tomahawk jam to give the United States some much needed breathing room.
On the next possession, James was able to put the game away.
As the shot clock was approaching zero, James lofted a 3-point shot through the net, his only make from beyond the arc on the night, to score the final of his 19 points.
All that was left were hugs and the presentation of medals for the United States after the long range shot from James ended any serious threat from Spain.
James was able to end what Kevin Durant started.
While James was filling specific voids from game to game, either becoming a dominant post scorer, distributor or primary defender, Durant kept scoring the ball.
By scoring a game-high 30 points, Durant moved past Spencer Haywood for the most points scored by an American player in a single Olympic competition, scoring 156 points total, surpassing Haywood’s total of 145 in 1960.
The 30 point performance marked the fifth time an American player had achieved the mark in Olympic competition and is the member of Team USA to ever score 30 or more points during a gold medal game.
Ever since leading the United States to a first place finish in the 2010 FIBA World Championship, when he was just trying to establish himself as an elite player, Durant has shined on the biggest stages in basketball.
Against the Heat in the Finals, Durant averaged 30.6 points per game and he served as the leading scorer for Team USA this summer, averaging 19.5 points during eight contests in London.
The duo of small forwards can fill any void left by Bryant, a guard that will turn 34 in nine days.
“This is it for me,” said Bryant after the contest. “The other guys are good to go.”
While Bryant added 17 points, it was clear he could step aside and the United States would be able to manage without him.
The trio were vital as the United States defended its gold medal, but now serve as the stiffest competition to capture the Larry O’Brien trophy.
Their summer in London solidified the United States as a basketball powerhouse.
At three different points in their career, James, Durant and Bryant also serve as the only worthy competition to each other.