Olympic basketball tips off this weekend in Rio, when Tony Parker’s French national team locks horns with Patty Mills and Australia’s Boomers.
Joining their fellow Spurs in South America are Spaniard Pau Gasol, along with Manu Ginobili and freshly signed forward Patricio Garino representing Argentina. Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge both passed on the opportunity to represent Team USA this time around, which should bode well for Spurs faithfuls in the long run.
Parker and Mills will be tasked in Group A of the tournament, where a Golden State Warriors-infused North American squad looms large. Fueled by former Longhorn Kevin Durant, Team USA dominated their exhibition games leading up to the Olympics, overwhelming opponents by an average of 43 points. Mills lead all scorers at the 2012 games in London, but with five NBA players on their roster, Parker’s Les Bleus have the best shot at challenging the Americans.
The battle for silver could still emerge from Group B where Gasol and Ginobili anchor optimistic teams that excel in international play. Gasol and La Roja have claimed the silver medal at the last two Olympics, and although no longer in his “Golden Generation” prime, Ginobili may have a few tricks left for his presumably last appearance on the Olympic stage.
Earlier this week, Ginobili was visibly emotional after Argentina’s 86-79 victory over Team France in Cordoba. The exhibition game was perhaps Ginobili’s final international contest representing his home country on native soil.
“The truth is we are very proud to have created all that we did, to have generated this celebration for the game of basketball,” Ginobili told fans after the game. “We are very happy to be here and be able to continue, after all this time, representing the country.” Manu and Pau will go head-to-head to close out the preliminary round, breathing new life into a sweltering summer for San Anto hoops enthusiasts. As in recent Olympics, watching Team USA’s disparate personalities come together to achieve a common goal will help keep things fresh as their margin of victory balloons. If nothing else, the tournament in Rio will give Spurs fans an adjustment period to cheering for Gasol, a former Laker, and serve as a welcome introduction to Argentina’s Garino, aka Pato.