LONDON - What's wrong with excellence?
What's wrong with the United States being the best in the world at a game it invented, with fighting to maintain its advantage over a basketball world that improves yearly?
Imagine if David Stern ruled world basketball.
Imagine if the NBA commissioner could have imposed his basketball world view on the 2012 Olympics, could have restricted the roster to players 23 years and younger.
You would have seen a bunch of recent non-graduates from the University of Kentucky playing the sloppy, AAU-style basketball that now dominates the woeful college game, instead of what we were privileged to watch Sunday: basketball artistry woven with nationalistic passion.
Stern would have had us miss LeBron James displaying an on-court maturity to match his gifts, and Chris Paul weaving through the Spanish defense with the game on the line.
And four years from now, had everyone in the Olympic and FIBA hierarchy not rejected Stern's notion as if it were a Darko Milicic layup, Kevin Durant and Kevin Love would have been barred from playing together in the 2016 Olympics.
These guys belong in Rio. They even belong in the same sentence. As the United States beat Spain 107-100 in the gold medal game of the Olympic tournament Sunday, Love proved more than worthy of a roster spot; he proved essential.
Love contributed nine points and nine rebounds in 18 minutes. He led the team in rebounding for the tournament. More important, when Spain's Pau Gasol began dominating in the second half, it was Love, never known for his defensive prowess, who put a stop to it.
"Kevin Love was amazing,'' Paul said. "He was so valuable to our team. Everybody on this team knows we couldn't have won it without him.''
On a team of stars, Love played key minutes down the stretch and left the floor in the last minute of the game along with James, Durant and Paul.
"Kevin Love, I thought he had a great tournament for us,'' said director of USA basketball Jerry Colangelo. "I didn't chastise him when I made a comment early on; I just said he's not playing as well as he can. And he said that was true. And he stepped up and did it.
"He's one of the real unsung heroes on this team.''
Before the Olympics started, Colangelo questioned Love, and Love questioned the Timberwolves' commitment to winning, and Stern questioned whether he should continue to send his biggest stars to the Olympics.
Three weeks later, Love had made himself indispensable, the Wolves had added two members of the bronze-winning Russian team, and Stern had suddenly become mute.
Love wants to play in Rio. Of course he does. Thanks to Colangelo and USA coach Mike Krzyzewski, and a generation of NBA stars who took pride in representing their country with passion and class, spending summers playing basketball for free has become cool again.
"Of course, of course, I'd love to go to Rio and compete,'' Love said. "At that time I'll be heading into the prime of my career and it will be another unique experience. Hopefully they won't put that rule in.''
The gem of that quote is this: Love has progressed from intuitive rebounder to strong all-around player to star in the past three years. In 2011-12, he averaged 26 points and 13 rebounds. As he proved with his defense and adaptability during the Olympics, he's both a star and a work in progress.
"Definitely, numbers-wise, I can get better,'' he said. "But also as an overall player I can get better. Whether it's 25, 26, 27, I think that's the beginning of your prime, where you've really figured out the game and your body has matured and you've come into your own and become a seasoned veteran.
"That's what I'm looking forward to.''
Luckily for a world of basketball fans, we can look forward to seeing him in Rio with Durant, Paul and the rest of his peers.
Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • email@example.com
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