Happy 80th, Elgin Baylor!


VIDEO: Relive the storied career of Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor

Elgin Baylor turned 80 Tuesday, which means the NBA’s love affair with verticality unofficially is approaching its 56th birthday. The Hall of Fame forward – whom Lakers teammate Jerry West considers the most underrated player in league history – arrived in Minneapolis as the No. 1 pick in the 1958 draft. He brought with him a style Doc Naismith couldn’t have imagined back when he hung up his first peach baskets.

The lineage of acrobatic, balletic, above-the-rim basketball players can be traced back through Michael Jordan and Julius Erving and Connie Hawkins, directly to Elgin Baylor. With shoulder fakes, a rocking dribble and a head twitch that some labeled a tic, the 11-time All-Star forward baffled opponents and invented moves nightly. At 6-5, he snatched rebounds like men a half-foot taller.

“If Julius Erving . . . is a doctor, then Elgin Baylor was a brain surgeon when he played,” teammate Rod Hundley said.

That’s an excerpt from a February 1994 profile of Baylor I wrote for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The NBA All-Star Game was headed to the Twin Cities that winter, 34 years after Baylor and the Lakers had left town for sunny California. Baylor, then 59, was the last active member of the Minneapolis Lakers when he retired in 1971 and, long before Timberwolves Kevin Garnett and Kevin Love, he remains the greatest NBA star to slip away from the league’s hinterlands.

If only Baylor had logged a couple more seasons in Minnesota, the NBA’s and the Lakers’ futures might have been dramatically different, given his game and his gate appeal:

Baylor played in the second NBA game he ever saw, and scored 25 points in the season opener. He had an uncanny ability to make adjustments in mid-air. He manipulated the ball with one hand at a time when most players still used two and, foreshadowing Moses Malone, he often grabbed his own missed shots for second and third chances. Always he was cool, never revealing his emotions on the court.

“Elgin Baylor has either got three hands or two basketballs out there,” New York’s Richie Guerin griped after a game at old Madison Square Garden. “It’s like guarding a flood.”

The Lakers began the season on financial probation, with the NBA threatening to take over the franchise if it didn’t average $6,600 in home gate receipts. It never happened; the team’s attendance soared from 2,790 the year before to 4,122 in 1958-59. The Lakers’ record improved to 33-39, and they reached the Finals for the first time since 1954. Baylor was Rookie of the Year, averaged 24.9 points and 15 rebounds, scored 55 points in one game and shared the MVP award in the All-Star Game with St. Louis’ Bob Pettit.

In that ’94 interview, Baylor talked about the concept of “hang time,” and how his horizontal might have been more impressive than his vertical:

“I think this: I’ve watched Jordan and Julius and everybody,” Baylor said. “I don’t think anyone stays up in the air longer than anyone else. When you’re driving to the basket, it’s a broad jump instead of a vertical leap. . . . And a lot of times, you get the guy to commit himself and he’s up in the air, and you’re just getting ready to go up. It’s the illusion.”

 

Morning shootaround — Sept. 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Report: Thompson seeks early extension | Hollins expects KG to suit up for Nets | Pelicans’ stars finally get healthy | State of FIBA after the World Cup

No. 1: Report: Thompson wants max extension early — The NBA offseason didn’t get off to the greatest start for Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson. He often found his name bandied about in trade talks as Golden State made a charge to land Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love. But Love eventually settled in Cleveland via a trade with Minnesota and Thompson had an enjoyable (and productive) couple of weeks as a standout performer for Team USA as it rolled to the gold medal in the FIBA World Cup. Thompson is still on his rookie deal and the Warriors have until Oct. 31 to sign him to a contract extension. Sam Amick of USA Today reports that Thompson’s agent is seeking that payday and Thompson, for his part, wants no part of leaving Golden State:

Thompson and the Warriors have until Oct. 31 to agree on an extension that would ensure the “Splash Brothers,” as he and All-Star point guard Stephen Curry have been dubbed, are in the same pool for years to come. Failing to reach a deal would mean he’ll become a restricted free agent next summer, a scenario that Thompson and his agent, Bill Duffy, would prefer to avoid.

Yet Duffy is widely known to be demanding a maximum contract that the Warriors would prefer not to pay. His reasoning? He sees Thompson as the best shooting guard in the game.

“I don’t want (Los Angeles Lakers star) Kobe Bryant to go crazy, but there’s some uncertainty as to who he is right now (because of injuries that limited him to six games last season),” Duffy told USA TODAY Sports. “But I think Klay Thompson right now is the top two-way, two-guard in basketball. I think when you look at his body of work, when you look at what he accomplished guarding point guards on a regular basis (last season), I think it’s pretty clear.”

Truth be told, he may be right.

“I’ve been telling him (he’s the best two-way shooting guard) for a couple of years now,” said Mychal Thompson, who has the unique distinction of being on both sides of the argument as Klay’s father and an ex-Laker and longtime commentator for Bryant’s team. “Everybody knows that he can score, but I always told him I’m so proud of how he takes so much pride in defense as he does with scoring.”

Warriors owner Joe Lacob preferred not to discuss the extension situation but made it clear that Thompson is seen as a major priority for their program. As he pointed out, the organization has been making moves with Thompson in mind for quite some time now. In March 2012, they traded Monta Ellis to the Milwaukee Bucks not only to land center Andrew Bogut, but also to make room for Thompson during his rookie season.

“We love Klay,” Lacob said in an e-mail to USA TODAY Sports. “He is clearly an integral part of our team and our future. I remember sitting courtside at Stanford Pac-12 games watching Klay at (Washington State) for three years. I thought he could be a prototype big shooting guard in the NBA and we targeted him in the draft and were ecstatic to be able to draft him at (No.) 11 in the first round.

“We traded an excellent guard freeing up a starting spot for him and, as is known, despite many requests from other teams over the last few years, we have continued to bet on his continued development. We are very proud that he is a Warrior and also of his major contribution on this year’s USA Basketball team. We are looking forward to a great year for Klay, the Splash Brothers and the Warriors.”

Being a part of trade rumors is part of the unofficial job description in the NBA, but this was different. Not only did the Warriors-T’wolves situation drag on for more than a month, but the early indications that Golden State had been willing to trade Thompson were followed, in the end, with a hard stance that they simply wouldn’t give him up. One national report indicated that Thompson was angry about it all, though he said that’s not the case.

“I wasn’t really pissed,” Thompson said. “I was more just worried about being traded, just because I’m so comfortable in the Bay. I think that’s natural for anybody (to not want to) just get up and move. I mean it wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but it’s a business, and I’m still playing ball for a living.

“I was more happy when they showed faith in me that they didn’t want to budge and trade me for a guy (in Love) who’s a multiple all-NBA guy and a proven All-Star. I thought that was really cool that the Warriors believed in my potential.”


VIDEO: Warriors.com takes a look at Klay Thompson and Steph Curry’s play on the FIBA stage  

GLAAD honors Warriors president Welts

It is nearly 3 ½ years later. Jason Collins, an NBA center hoping to squeeze another season or two from the twilight of his career, has come out. Michael Sam, a successful college player trying to make it in the NFL, has since announced he is gay. Robbie Rogers, an American soccer player in England and later to return to the United States with the Los Angeles Galaxy, has made the same declaration.

2014 GLAAD San Francisco Gala

Jarron Collins and Rick Welts attend the 2014 GLAAD San Francisco Gala at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square on Sept. 13, 2014 in San Francisco, Calif. (Photo by Trisha Leeper/Getty Images for GLAAD)

Now Warriors president and chief operating officer, Rick Welts looks back without regret that he came out in a May 2011 front-page story in the New York Times, as the first prominent North American sports figure to publicly disclose his homosexuality. He looks ahead with optimism while seeing work still ahead before gay athletes and officials find true acceptance. In between — in the moment — he remains in the role he not only accepted but embraced at the time of his historic announcement: a leading voice whenever the topic enters the public conversation.

Welts was honored Saturday in San Francisco with the Davidson/Valentini Award by GLAAD as what the advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues called the “LGBT media professional who has made a significant difference in promoting equality for the LGBT community.” The presenter? New Warriors assistant coach Jarron Collins — Jason’s brother.

Welts, who rose from ball boy with the Seattle SuperSonics to executive vice president and chief marketing officer of the NBA and later president and chief operating officer of the Suns, couldn’t help but notice the sports world he helped pave, as he noted in a conversation in advance of the award ceremony.

NBA.com: What does something like that mean to you, to be put on that plateau, to be put on that podium, for the work that you’ve done?

Welts: I don’t know. It’s actually a really great opportunity to kind of reflect back over what I think has been just a remarkable time on our country’s history. For me, since I made my announcement in May of ’11, there’s no way I could have foreseen or anybody could have foreseen the transformation in our society over that period of time in regards to a whole number of issues.

I’m really proud of the NBA on that night. I’m obviously humbled by being selected for the honor, but the cooler thing for me is that I’m not sure what we’re going to do on Saturday night can be replicated in any other league. We have an openly gay president of an NBA team being presented by one of our team’s assistant coaches who happens to be the twin brother of the first male professional athlete to come out during his career, Jarron Collins. That’s a rare combination of events and personalities that kind of come together. I’m really proud of our league. I’m really proud of where the NBA is and will be on this issue and I think that it speaks volumes about the leadership in our league and its vision for what sports leagues can be and should be. If anything, that’s probably what I take away the most pleasure in.

NBA.com: One thing I’ve always noted is that stepping into this role as almost a spokesman for the whole movement, it’s not just something you have accepted, it’s something that you really seemed to have embraced. Where did that come from? Is that something you always wanted to have once you decided to come out or is that just how it evolved?

Welts: It was part of the thought process in deciding to undertake my journey the way I did. When I was thinking about this, I remember in January of 2011 asking one of my longest-standing friends and who I consider to be the smartest guy in the PR business, Dan Klores, when I was in New York.

I can remember it like it was yesterday. It was a snowy night on the Upper East side. We got together for dinner. I said, “Dan, here’s what I’m thinking about. But I’m too close to it. I could do this a number of ways. I could just take care of this privately with friends, family and co-workers and accomplish basically what I want to. But you need to help me understand if there’s a bigger story here and whether or not I could do more good by telling it another way.” That night, he looked across the table at me and said, “If you’re really prepared to do this, I think it’s Page A-1 New York Times.” That was kind of my “Oh, (shoot)” moment, excuse my French. I was kind of like, “Wow. Really? OK.”

And then over the ensuing few months I got introduced to a brilliant writer at the New York Times, Dan Barry, and talked about how the story could be told in a very thoughtful way and enlisted from Bill Russell to Steve Nash to David Stern to tell the story of someone about nobody in the sports world would really know: me. I don’t play, I don’t coach, I’ve devoted my life to this business but hearing about me through names that everybody that’s associated with sports would know is a great way to really put a circle around the announcement and to hopefully create some really substantive discussion about those issues in men’s pro sports, which has trailed — still trails, but I think we’re catching up a little bit — the country in terms of attitude and environments that are created in the workplace.

So, yeah, it’s what I signed up for. I embrace it and I’m incredibly gratified to see with amazement what’s happened since then. Not everybody gives Robbie Rogers enough credit, who is on the U.S. national soccer team and was a European soccer player at the time he made his announcement, now plays for the Galaxy. Jason Collins, obviously. Just an incredibly amazing act of strength to do what he did when he did it and the way he did it. And Michael Sam that we’re all rooting to find a job. But also we’re reading about college athletes and high school athletes who are taking those steps very courageously to make this something that we have to talk about. The more we talk about it, the better we understand it.  

International scene in transition


VIDEO: Gold Medal Postgame: Coach Krzyzewski

MADRID – Serbia had looked really good in its previous three games, beating 5-0 Greece by 18, walloping 5-1 Brazil by 28, and putting up 90 points against a France defense that had just shut down Spain at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

But you don’t really know how good you are until you play against the best. And when Serbia faced the U.S. for the first time since the former was part of the larger Yugoslavia, it got crushed, 129-92, in Sunday’s gold medal game.

Serbia has a lot of young talent and a very good coach. It should be one of the best national teams in Europe for years to come. Though it won silver at 2009 Eurobasket and finished fourth at the 2010 World Championship, this run at the World Cup could be the start of something even bigger.

“This is a very, very big success for our country,” Miroslav Raduljica said. “We put a good, healthy foundation for something in the future.”

But the gap between one of the best national teams in Europe and the best national team in the world seems to be pretty wide, especially when you consider that LeBron James and Kevin Durant weren’t representing the U.S. this summer. The Americans have come a long way since the 2002 World Championship, having won four straight gold medals with a stable and sustainable system under USA managing director Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski.

So does any other nation have any hope of knocking off the Americans any time soon?

“I think we can lose our next game,” Krzyzewski said after extending the USA’s winning streak to 63 games (45 FIBA and FIBA Americas games, 18 exhibition games) on Sunday. “That’s the way we prepare, because we know how good everyone is. So I don’t see a gap. I just see good basketball, and then we’ve been able to win.”

For the USA’s opponents, it helps to know what you’re up against. And Serbia coach Sasha Djordjevic said Sunday that his team was at a disadvantage having never faced the speed, athleticism and talent of the best players in the world. Now, it has that experience.

“Each time we play against a team like that,” Djordjevic said, “we are growing up as a team. And we need this more often, because we have to understand how we have to bring up our level of athleticism, our level of defense, our level of passing, to achieve the level these USA players have. So this was a great, great night for us. A great game. We can learn a lot from this game.”

The U.S. is always going to have the talent. But a lot of other national teams, especially those from Europe that play together almost every year, have the edge when it comes to chemistry. And each time they play the Americans, they gain reps against the best. So, the next time we see this matchup, Serbia will be more prepared.

Here are a few more ramifications of what went down over the last 16 days in Spain.

A summer off

Along with the gold medal comes automatic qualification for the 2016 Olympics in Rio. So, for the fourth straight time (2009, 2011, 2013, 2015), the U.S. won’t need to send a team to the FIBA Americas tournament in the year between the Olympics and World Cup.

If they had lost on Sunday, they would have needed to qualify for the Olympics through the Americas. And it would have been interesting to see what kind of team Colangelo and Krzyzewski put together next summer in a tournament that has far less appeal than this one. But they won’t have to worry about that.

Things are going to change after 2016, however. And an Olympic gold in Rio will not earn instant qualification for the 32-team, 2019 World Cup. Instead, in a format change that was announced last year, there will be 16 teams from the Americas competing for seven spots in the World Cup via a qualification similar to that of the soccer World Cup, with some games taking place during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 NBA seasons. That, of course, will bring up even more questions about who will play for the U.S. and other nations with key players in the NBA.  

USAB program solid from top to bottom

Team USA, gold medal winners at the FIBA Basketball World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

Team USA, gold medal winners at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

MADRID — It’s as American as apple pie, the deep-seeded need to be the best. For USA Basketball, gold has always been the goal.

It hasn’t always been as easy as it was Sunday, when the U.S. confirmed its international basketball dominance with a 129-92 win over Serbia in the gold medal game of the FIBA Basketball World Cup. There was a time, not that long ago, that the national program was in shambles. It turned ugliest when the U.S. hobbled to a dismal sixth-place finish at the 2002 World Championship in Indianapolis. That was the first time a team composed entirely of NBA stars lost in international competition.

The blueprint for rebuilding Team USA was designed shortly after, born out of a respect for the global game that replaced the sense of entitlement that many with the team carried.

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski understood  the gains the rest of the world made after the original Dream Team came here and dazzled the world at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

“When we started out nine years ago with Jerry and his staff, we had two goals,” Coach K said . “One was to try to win gold medals, 1A, and 1B was to win the respect of our country and the world and how it would be done. I think one of the reasons we won is because we do have that respect. We know how good everyone is. It’s beautiful basketball. We prepare like crazy and we learn from the international community.”

There were stumbles early, lessons to be learned from those stumbles and plenty of ground to be made up in terms of internal structure and a culture that had to be created. But USA Basketball is once again the gold standard. The best talent on the best teams at every level — U-19 and U-17 included — fly the USAB banner.

“I’m very pleased and excited and happy for where USA Basketball is today,” Colangelo said. “I can think back to 2005 when I was asked to take on that responsibility, and we had a game plan and now we’re seeing the fruition of that over the last decade. And it’s resulted in four gold medal championships, and it doesn’t get much better than that.”

Four cycles — World Cup/World Championships and Olympics alternating every two years — four straight gold medals and 45 straight wins later, it’s obvious that the master plan for USA Basketball’s championship infrastructure is firmly in place.  

Stars of NBA.com Top 10 voting ending


VIDEO: Stars of the NBA.com Top 10 second team

By Beau Estes, for NBA.com

The clock is ticking and the ball is in your hands.  It’s now all down to fan votes.

Today we release the first half of the “Stars of the NBA.com Top 10.” There are five spots remaining on this list and we have a pool of five players for fans to vote among.

The player with the most votes from the fans will be crowned king this Wednesday.  The deadline for voting is Wednesday at midnight (ET), so send your vote — your one vote for the player that should be No. 1 — to @NBABeau and later on Wednesday we will release the Top 5.

The following, in no particular order, are the five players to choose from:

  • Russell Westbrook
  • Kevin Durant
  • Stephen Curry
  • LeBron James
  • Blake Griffin

Once again, get your votes in to @NBABeau and we will reveal your choice for the Top 5 players on the “Stars of the NBA.com Top 10.”

Thus far, the response has been as entertaining as much as enthusiastic.

Some fans were conflicted, but in the end honest.

Others were filled with certainty about their choice

Still others wanted to dive into the history books, which wasn’t precisely the exercise, but was fun nonetheless

Once again, get your votes in to @NBABeau by Wednesday at midnight and we will then reveal your choice for the Top 5 players on the first ever “Stars of the NBA.com Top 10.”

Morning shootaround — Sept. 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING
USA romps, silences critics | Irving caps off amazing summer with MVP | Rose gets early jump on 2014-15 season | Rubio never got to talk Love into staying

No. 1: USA silences critics, takes home the gold — As the superstar names either opted out or dropped off the Team USA roster for the 2014 FIBA World Cup, the questions seemed to grow with each missing player. Could this U.S. team continue the dominance it had previously enjoyed on the world stage? Who would step up to fill the superstar gap left by (pick one:) LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Love and others not taking part? As our Sekou Smith points out, though, Team USA’s romp of Serbia not only clinched the gold medal for it, but proved once again why the U.S. has the best overall basketball talent:

After being asked about it for weeks, they can answer honestly and without the least bit of arrogance.

They are indeed unbeatable, the U.S. National Team, winners of 45 straight games in World Cup/World Championship and Olympic competition.

Yes, the best from the U.S. is way better than what anyone else can offer up on basketball’s global stage.

With the win the U.S. captured its fifth title and this team put the U.S. in elite company, joining Brazil (1959 and ’63) and Yugoslavia (’98 and 2002) as the only nations to repeat as champs.

For weeks this U.S. team, devoid of superstars like LeBron James, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony, not to mention Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Paul George, heard about how vulnerable it was. Spain, and not the U.S. was being touted as the favorite early on.

What is basically an under-25 squad of U.S. stars silenced their critics with one dominant performance after another. Not all of them were as pretty as Sunday’s gold medal game, when Irving set the tone early by connecting on his first five shots and piling up 15 points by halftime. He was a perfect 4-for-4 from beyond the 3-point line, saving his best showing for the final game in Spain. He led the U.S. charge with a game-high 26 points and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

The U.S. started pool play in Bilbao, plundering through Group C without playing their very best and still smashing the opposition in all five games. They weren’t tested deep into any of their three games in the medal round in Barcelona, smashing through Mexico, Slovenia and finally Lithuania in the semifinals. They won their first eight games by an average of 32.5 points.

Not only was this game and the entire competition a showcase for an up-and-coming group of young NBA stars — Faried, Davis, Cousins, Klay Thompson and even a young All-Star like Irving will all return home to greater expectations with their respective NBA teams — it serves as proof that whatever leaks there have been in the USA Basketball pipeline in recent years have been plugged.

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and Krzyzewski have made sure of it with their resuscitation of the program over the past nine years.

“Coach K told us before the game that we were going to play our best game tonight,” Thompson said. “And we proved him right. I can’t put this into words, man. I haven’t won a title since high school, certainly nothing this big.  Winning in high school was great, but this is something I’ll hopefully be able to show my grandkids one day. I’ll cherish this the rest of my life.”


VIDEO: James Harden talks with GameTime about the thrill of winning FIBA World Cup gold  

MVP Irving takes Serbia to school, USA to World Cup gold


VIDEO: USA takes gold with rout of Serbia

MADRID – Maybe it’s LeBron James that will have to adjust more to playing off the ball this season, because Kyrie Irving is going to need it quite a bit.

Irving arrived at USA Basketball training camp in Las Vegas on July 28, looking sharper than any of the other 30 guys in the gym. While other guards may have offered the roster better passing or two-way play, Irving’s one-on-one skills were impossible to ignore.

“Coach called me about three times [before camp] and kept asking me if I was in shape,” Irving said. “So there was a little bit of pressure there. But coming in, being ready and throwing myself in there, whatever happens happens and living with the results.”

The results speak for themselves. Seven weeks later, Irving was dropping 26 points on Serbia in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup gold medal game on Sunday and earning tournament MVP honors.

After Serbia built an early lead and Anthony Davis was sent to the bench with two fouls in the first four minutes, Irving went to work, scoring 15 points as the U.S. turned an eight-point deficit into a 14-point lead by the end of the first quarter.

Especially against slower defenders, Irving can always slice and dice his way to the rim. And he did that a couple of times in that first-quarter run.

But Irving is also a dangerous shooter off the dribble. When his jumper is falling, he’s basically impossible to guard. And it was falling, and falling, and falling on Sunday. Irving shot 6-for-6 from 3-point range, including 3-for-3 in that first quarter.

Before the game, there may have been questions about how well Irving could defend Serbia’s star point guard, Milos Teodosic. That didn’t really matter, because by the end of that first quarter, it was clear that Teodosic had no chance in trying to defend Irving.

“He made so many plays and kept the pressure on their guards to defend him,” Stephen Curry said of Irving. “He gave us what we needed, him and James [Harden] in the first half, to open up the game.”

When the U.S. is hitting its 3s, their opponent’s main defensive strategy basically goes out the window. That was the scenario in the gold medal game as, led by Irving, the Americans shot 11-for-16 from beyond the arc in the first half.

“That made the difference,” Serbia coach Sasha Djordjevic said. “I don’t think anything worked, what we planned.”

The U.S. didn’t stop at the break, scoring 38 points on 19 possessions in the third quarter, rolling to a 129-92 victory and an average margin of victory of 33 points in its nine World Cup games.

“They really kicked our butt tonight,” Djordjevic said.

The U.S. didn’t have Chris Paul, Deron Williams or Russell Westbrook at point guard. And Derrick Rose was shaking off the rust of not having played since November and Damian Lillard was left at home so the team could carry an extra big man.

None of that mattered, because Irving held it down at the one. When Rose took a few days off after the first exhibition game in mid-August, Irving took over the starting point guard spot and never gave USA coach Mike Krzyzewski a reason to go back to his original lineup.

“Playing with this team,” Irving said, “you have so many pieces to go to. It’s easy for me to take a back seat when Stephen Curry’s hot or James Harden is hot or AD is in the post and he’s killing another big man. It’s easy for me to do that.”

Irving may never be a true, makes-his-teammates-much-better point guard. But good luck staying in front of him. And good luck trying to defend him at all when his jumper is falling. Uncle Drew will be taking you to school today, kids.

“I’m doing whatever’s needed to win, playing with the best in the world,” Irving said. “I feel like that’s where I want to be and where I should be. Going back to Cleveland, I’m just going to have the same mind set, just being myself, working extremely hard every single day, and maintaining my confidence that has made me who I am and who I want to become.”

The Cavaliers have Kevin Love. They have the best player in the world. And now they have best player at the World Cup, who is only 22 years old.

U.S. rolls Serbia, captures FIBA World Cup gold after strong run


VIDEO: Matt Winer reflects on Team USA’s unique path to FIBA World Cup gold

MADRID — After being asked about it for weeks, they can answer honestly and without the least bit of arrogance.

They are indeed unbeatable, the U.S. National Team, winners of 45 straight games in World Cup/World Championship and Olympic competition.

Yes, the best from the U.S. is way better than what anyone else can offer up on basketball’s global stage.

Those NBA players who sported red, white and blue on Sunday in the gold medal game of the FIBA World Cup backed it all up by decimating Serbia early and rolling to a 129-92 win and repeating as champs after winning the 2010 World Championship in Turkey.

Serbian pride was supposed to carry the day and make the final the biggest and best test for a team of U.S. stars who weren’t even considered the “B-Team.”

“Yes, yes, yes,” said outspoken U.S. forward Kenneth Faried, who made the five-man All-Tournament team, trying to be mindful of U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski‘s edict to respect the process and opponent. “I know what you are asking. So no, we are not ‘unbeatable.’ But we seemed to prove that theory in a different way tonight. We handled our business and got that gold medal.”

Serbian pride was no match for American hustle, muscle and raw athleticism that Kyrie Irving and the U.S. “C-Team” unleashed on the crowd at the Palacio de los Deportes. The U.S. lead was up to 31 at one point before halftime, a virtually insurmountable lead for a team of 12 NBA players against a Serbian crew that doesn’t boast a single player currently on an NBA roster.

“This is by far the biggest accomplishment in my life so far,” said Irving, who was a perfect 6-for-6 from beyond the 3-point line and flat-out spectacular against Serbian guard Milos Teodosic. “This feels amazing. It’s one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever felt. All the emotions haven’t come to me yet but I did this with a group of guys I can call my brothers for the rest of my life.”

With the win the U.S. captured its fifth title and this team put the U.S. in elite company, joining Brazil (1959 and ’63) and Yugoslavia (’98 and 2002) as the only nations to repeat as champs.

For weeks this U.S. team, devoid of superstars like LeBron James, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony, not to mention Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Paul George, heard about how vulnerable it was. Spain, and not the U.S. was being touted as the favorite early on.

What is basically an under-25 squad of U.S. stars silenced their critics with one dominant performance after another. Not all of them were as pretty as Sunday’s gold medal game, when Irving set the tone early by connecting on his first five shots and piling up 15 points by halftime. He was a perfect 4-for-4 from beyond the 3-point line, saving his best showing for the final game in Spain. He led the U.S. charge with a game-high 26 points and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.  

USA-Serbia gold medal live blog


VIDEO: GameTime: FIBA Finals Predictions

MADRID – After 16 days and 75 games, it’s time to bring the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup to a close with the gold medal game between the United States and Serbia (3 p.m. ET, ESPN 2).

The U.S. has suffocating defense and a 44-game winning streak on the line. Serbia has a potent offense and a three-game streak of pulling off upsets to go from 2-3 in group play to earning at least a silver medal.

The winner not only gets the gold, but also an automatic berth into the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Read NBA.com’s preview here.

Pre-game

Tip-off

End of first quarter: USA 35, Serbia 21

Halftime: USA 67, Serbia 41

End of third quarter: USA 105, Serbia 67

Final: USA 129, Serbia 92