A dream year of basketball gets a golden finish for LeBron James, who leads the US men's team over Spain to win the Olympic title at London 2012.
Dream result for LeBron James and the golden US team
Great for most of the Olympics, just good enough for gold.
The United States men's basketball team defended their title by fighting off another huge challenge from Spain, pulling away in the final minutes for a 107-100 victory on Sunday night.
And just like 2008, the star-studded Americans had to work for this one. LeBron James capped one of basketball's most brilliant individual years with a monster dunk and a huge three-pointer in the final 2:50 that finally wrapped up a close, back-and-forth game that few would have seen coming after the Americans had been so dominant for so long in London.
James said: "We knew it wasn't going to be easy. We didn't want it easy.
"A lot of teams have won gold easy. We didn't want it that way. We're a competitive team and we love when it gets tight. That's when our will and determination kind of shows. It was the same way in '08."
Carmelo Anthony said: "For us to persevere the way we did is just a special moment for myself, and for the guys who are on this team."
Yet four years after beating Spain 118-107 in a classic in Beijing, the US found themselves in another tight one, unable to ever really slow the Spanish down until the closing minutes.
Kevin Durant scored 30 points and James had 19 on a day he joined Michael Jordan as the only players to win the NBA title, regular-season MVP, NBA Finals MVP and Olympic gold in the same year.
Mike Krzyzewski, who has said he is retiring as national team coach after restoring the Americans to their place atop world basketball, emptied his bench in the final minute
James stood with both arms in the air, then held Durant in a long hug before they both headed to the bench.
The Americans, who insisted they were better than their 2008 version and even good enough to take a game from the 1992 Dream Team, may not have been at that level.
Still, they were better again than Spain - though not by much.
When the final horn sounded, Krzyzewski locked James in a tight embrace as Bruce Springsteen's "Born In The USA" rocked the arena.
The Americans hugged at midcourt, James Harden, the guard, holding a doll of the Olympic mascot, and then after being handed flags, this group of NBA players - and one youngster just out of college - who grew into a tight-knit group during their time together, paraded around the floor, the Stars and Stripes flowing off their backs like capes.
Yes, they were Olympic superheroes again, but they had to fight until the finish.
Kobe Bryant, now with a second gold medal to go with his five NBA championships, added 17 points for the Americans, and then announced he was retiring from international action.
The Los Angeles Lakers player said: "This is it for me. The other guys are good to go."
Pau Gasol scored 24 points and Juan Carlos Navarro had 21 for Spain, which was again just a few minutes from their first basketball gold but could not finish the job against the Americans.
The US came in averaging nearly 117 points and stomping on their competition with such ease that even the Olympics' own daily preview had a hard time envisioning intrigue, writing that it would "likely take a great game from Spain and an off day from the USA to cause an upset."
Well, Spain brought the great game and trailed by only a point heading into the fourth quarter.
But the Spanish somehow lost sight of James, and the game's best player drove uncontested and threw it down for a 99-91 lead with 2:48 left.
After Marc Gasol dunked, James dribbled outside the circle with Marc Gasol giving him just a bit too much room, and James pulled up for the three that made it 102-93 with 1:59 to play.
Pau Gasol was then called for an offensive foul on a pick, and the Americans could sense that it was over.
Pau Gasol, who carried the flag for Spain in the opening ceremony, nearly carried his country to its greatest Olympic basketball glory, but had a big miss inside with Spain down by six about three minutes to go, screaming out loud in frustration as he went back down the court.
Then James finished it off, in style, to give the US the gold again.
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