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Spain's basketball kings
Carrie Brown finds out about the growth of basketball in Spain.
Last Modified: 29 May 2007 16:04 GMT

Jorge Garbajosa (l) of Spain reaches out to block Dimitris Diamantidis of Greece at the 2006 FIBA World Championship Finals in Japan [GALLO/GETTY]

Basketball is considered a sport dominated by the North Americans.
 
Yet, the last World Championship final boasted two European sides.

Greece were the favourites after knocking the US out in the last four while Spain were forced to go into the final minus their star.

NBA All-Star Pau Gasol broke his foot in the semi-final against Argentina.
Spain, however, were quick to prove they do not rely on the talents of 'one man' alone.
 
Jorge Garbajosa and Juan Carlos Navarro inspired their side, recording 20 points a piece, to sweep aside Greece 70-47.
 
It was a career defining moment for Barcelona's Navarro.

"It's a day to remember for the rest of my life, a historic day. I always joke with Pau that he didn't win the World Championship because he wasn't in the final so he didn't win.
 
"When you win it, in the moment, you don't realise what you've done, and when you return to Spain and see all the people who watched, and cried with us and laughed with us, all the emotion of the day...it's a great day."
 
A great day, but this was no overnight success.

In Spain football is king but at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona it was Basketball that made the headlines.

Dream Team

Navarro admits that the "Dream Team", led by Earvin 'Magic' Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan caught the imagination of a generation.

"The Dream Team had an influence on everyone, they were a team of stars that knew where they were going and what they wanted. Above all they were winners. And Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan have been my idols since I was young."
 
Joan Montes coached Barcelona in the late 1990's and gave both Navarro and Gasol their first team debuts.

He believes the Dream team helped push Spanish Basketball into the professional era.
 

The sky's the limit for Jorge Garbajosa
[GALLO/GETTY]
"In the moment when the Dream Team came over, everybody bought tickets to see them, more than the Spanish team. People started talking about Basketball. It was good for the children to see the basketball games. Basketball gained a following and that pushed the sport forward."
 
Bound for the USA

Four of Spain's World Champions now play in the NBA.

Jorge Garbajosa and Jose Calderone are key players for the Toronto Raptors.

Garbajosa, a senior international, was a first hand witness to the rise of one crop of players dubbed the "Golden Generation".
 
"There are a generation of players like Calderon, Navarro, Phillipe Reyes who won the Junior World Championships, after this, Spain showed to everybody that they could beat the best players in the world.

"Now with the help of Carlos Jimienez and players like me, who are a little older, we are a good team. When we play a national match everyone is watching and following us and this is very important and I feel very proud for all of this"
  
Garbajosa's Raptors teammate Chris Bosh was a member of the US team who had to settle for bronze at the world championships.

The All-Star power forward admits his team were aware of the threat Spain posed before the Championships and believes the team can also strike gold at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
 
Like Calderon, Spain's Juan Carlos Navarro and Fran Vasquez were drafted by the NBA but they caused shock, even outrage, in the US by deciding to remain with their Spanish club, FC Barcelona.

Vasquez, who was drafted by the Orlando Magic, stayed in Spain for personal reasons but believes some players fear failure in America. 
 
"The NBA is a very important league but players go there and see a totally different style of basketball. They fear that they can't make it so they stay here, as part of the second best league in the world where everything is familiar."
 
FC Barcelona has, for now, managed to hold on to two of Spain's first choice international players but with their NBA counterparts and close friends earning two third's more, how long will they stay?
 
"Since Pau went over to the NBA he's been trying to get me over there. Telling me that I can play in the NBA. 

Winning ways: Jose Calderon (l) of Spain
celebrates with team mate Juan Carlos Navarro
[GALLO/GETTY]
 

Last year I played well in the Spanish league, I was the MVP - but before then I wasn't sure of  going over there. Now I feel I'm a much better, more mature player."
 
Navarro is FC Barcelona’s highest profile player and features alongside football superstar Ronaldinho to promote Barcelona's club brand. But claims that basketball is starting to compete with football in Spain appears 'wide of the mark.'   
 
One American college basketball player visiting Barcelona admitted he was disappointed to see the sport did not have a higher profile 
 
"I thought I was actually going to see it more because I heard Spain was more interested than some other European countries but I haven't seen it a lot. In fact, I've seen the basketball courts and the kids are playing soccer on them," he said. 

Critics claim Spanish basketball's lack of slam-dunk showmanship is restricting the growth of the sport and Navarro admits the European's attachment to fundamental team play is less spectacular than the NBA.
   
"I use my brain"

"Physically they're incredible. They do things there that over here we say 'how can they jump like that, how can they do those things?’ But, sometimes, it's not just about that, there are times when you have to play a more tactical game and think much more inside the court. 

"I think we've grown a lot and really know how to play now. There are players in the Spanish league that are really brilliant like that..  not me though as I'm not a good jumper! Instead, I use my brain."
 
In fact, it was Spain's defensive teamwork and tactical rotations that led to World Championship success.
 
In contrast, the American national team has been criticised in recent years for focusing its play around the individual exploits of a few star players a strategy that no longer guarantees then success at the international level.

NBA scouts certainly don't appear to be turned off by Spain's conservative play.  

"We've had more and more scouts coming to see us in the Spanish Cup. People follow our progress in the play-offs and the regular League, because they know that there are good players here as well," Navarro said.
 
In the near future, it's likely more Spanish players will be drafted into the NBA.

Source:
Agencies
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