Did you follow the EuroBasket? You know, that thing featuring the best basketball teams in Europe, and the best European basketball players, and some incredible hoops in Lithuania the past three weeks? No, LeBron and Kobe weren't there. They didn't need to be: as the EuroBasket 2011 proved, we have come a long way in the last two decades. Basketball in Europe was always competitive and featured high-quality, but now, it is becoming mainstream too, and in my opinion, more exciting than ever.
With the NBA lockout threatening to keep us away from high-quality basketball for a long, long time, there was no better place to see the next best thing of competitive world class hoops action than the EuroBasket. No fear, NBA-philes, for there was a healthy representation of the league in this championship. The Final of the EuroBasket featured the two teams with the most NBA players: Spain and France. What does that prove? Well, first of all, NBA teams know what the hell they are up to and are signing the world's best players. And secondly, it's showing the confidence that European players are gleaning from their time in the NBA, which is helping up dominate back home.
The champions were once again Spain, who have now won the EuroBasket for the second time in a row, and are perhaps the world's best team outside of the mighty USA, and were the only team to push the 'Redeem Team' to the brink in the 2008 Olympics. Don't worry, Spain fans, your team will get that chance again: by qualifying for the EuroBasket finals, both Spain and France also booked their place for the 2012 Olympics. USA are already there because of their World Championship victory.
But back to the EuroBasket final, though: it was a fair final, featuring two of the best teams in the competition. Spain's NBA representation came in the form of the mighty Gasol brothers (Pau and Marc), Rudy Fernandez, Ricky Rubio, Jose Calderon, and newly nationalised Serge Ibaka. Funny, because the one man this list doesn't mention is the man who was actually named MVP of the tournament, Juan Carlos Navarro.
France had the likes of Tony Parker, Joakim Noah, Nicolas Batum, Boris Diaw, and Kevin Seraphin. Mikael Pietrus, another talented French player in the NBA, missed the tournament due to injury.
The final was more or less the Navarro show, as the talented swingman carried off the momentum he had going in the semi-final to pour in 27 points and added five assists in the final. The Barcelona player known as "La Bomba" had 35 points against Macedonia in the semis just a few nights earlier. The EuroBasket MVP averaged 18.7 ppg in the course of the tournament, but saved his biggest performances for the end.
Spain led most of the way and won the game 98-85, which is quite a high-scoring result for an international game. Pau Gasol, who I still believe is Spain's most important player, seemed to be playing hobbled through the course of the tournament, but he still poured in 17 points and 10 rebounds in the Final. Gasol averaged 20.1 ppg and 8.3 rpg in the tournament.
Tony Parker was easily the best point guard in Europe in the tournament, and scored 26 points in a losing effort in the Final. Parker was the leading scorer at the EuroBasket, averaging 22.1 ppg.
One of the stories of the championship was the team from Macedonia. Completely underrated, Macedonia had a fairy-tale run into the Semi-Finals, which included an incredible victory over the hosts and superpower Lithuania in the Quarter-Finals. Macedonia were led by Bo McCalebb, an American born Macedonia-nationalised player, who averaged 21.4 ppg in the course of the tournament.
And then there was Russia: a team which quietly and efficiently went about their business, losing only one game, that a semi-final to France, en-route to a third place finish in the tournament. Russia were led, as usual, by the brilliant Andrei Kirilenko (who has unfortunately not been that brilliant for the Utah Jazz over the past several years). Russia defeated Macedonia in a close game 72-68, to win third place.
The biggest disappointment of the EuroBasket was found in Spain too, and he went by the name of Ricky Rubio. Few 20-year-olds have had this many pendulum swings in individual form, team success, and public opinion than Rubio. A player who became a star at 15, was troubling the world's best at the Olympics in 2008, was drafted by the Timberwolves in 2009 and didn't show, won a lot with his club and his country, but somewhere in between, completely lost confidence and now seems to be a ghost of a player we once saw. And all this before he can legally buy himself a drink in America: which is something he should be thinking about right now, since Rubio is finally making his trip to the NBA to play for the T-Wolves when and if the Lockout ends. Rubio had a horrible championship, but hey, he was the point guard / floor general of the best team in Europe. His talent will never be statified, so I won't even try: you have to watch him play and see the team results to decide how good or bad he is.
So, to sum it up, Rubio was bad at the Euros, but he was good enough to win!
The other disappointment was Turkey, who, after a brilliant silver-medal performance at the World Championship, couldn't even make it past the group stage in this tournament, and ended at 11th place.
In the earlier rounds, players like Luol Deng for Great Britain and Dirk Nowitzki for Germany carried their teams as far as they could with good individual play - Dirk had a little more help by Chris Kaman in his side, actually.
Here are the final standings:
Here is the All Tournament team: