On the 18th of September, the Spanish National Basketball team won this year’s Eurobasket, their fourth eurobasket title in under two decades. Yet, the final victories are not enough to encapsulate the important process behind Spain’s road to victory.
Spain’s basketball team went through a golden era from 2006 to the 2010s, during which time they won three Eurobaskets and two world cups. The golden era gradually came to an end with the retirement of most of the Spanish legends, such as Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, Juan Carlos Navarro and Jose Calderón. By 2022, the end of this generation of elite players meant many thought the team would enter a period of stagnation until they could find their next superstar players. Yet, they eventually proved all the skeptics wrong, reminding fans that basketball is a team sport in which true passion, heart, and teamwork are far more valuable assets than superstar players and big names.
Before the tournament, things took a turn for the worse when it was announced that Sergio Llul had been injured and would miss the Eurobasket. This was tragic news; the team already had low expectations and this injury made them even worse. On August 30th, Spain released the list of players for the Eurobasket consisting of 12 players, out of which 7 had never been called to play for the national team.
Spain’s competitors for the group stage were Turkey, Montenegro, Belgium, Bulgaria and Georgia. It looked like it was going to be a battle between Turkey and Spain for the first seed in the group. Spain celebrated their first win on September 1st against Bulgaria, then followed it up with another victory against Georgia. Momentum and expectations were building, until the third game where Belgium unexpectedly beat Spain. However, this did not seem to shake the team, and they recovered with two victories in the last games of the group stage, including a notable one against Turkey. After these results, Spain entered the next round classified as first in their group.
The quarter finals against Finland resulted in a Spanish victory of 100-90. It was not an easy victory, but Spain was able to maintain their lead throughout the entire game. For the semi-final, Germany was favored to win by most experts as a result of the star NBA players on their team. Everybody knew it was going to be a difficult game for Spain to win. But, to the surprise of many, Spain beat Germany in what was a close and entertaining game in which the outcome was not determined until the very last minute. The win meant they had ensured a medal in the tournament. It was as if the golden era had never ended. The team had already surpassed all expectations.
Their final opponent was France, a team with all-stars like Rudy Gobert and Evan Fournier, supposedly the best players in the world. However, it became obvious during the game that France relied too much on these two players, a fact Spain used to their advantage in their defensive strategy. Meanwhile, Spain played as a team in which every player carried out their role to perfection and played with intensity. Winning the game 88-76, they became the European champions for the fourth time. Although the contributions of Willy Hernangomez (who became Eurobasket MVP) and Lorenzo Brown were important, the key to Spain’s success was not individual skill, but teamwork and confidence.
Photo Credit: FIBA.BASKETBALL