Gold Medal Quotes: U.S. Men vs France
USA Men’s National Team managing director Jerry Colangelo
On Kevin Durant:
He’s one of the great players ever to play for USA Basketball. Without a doubt, he's special.
I tell the story, I met him when he was a freshman in college. And I invited him to come to camp, and he was wide eyed, bushy tailed. He said, ‘I'll be there.’ And it's never changed.
Can you describe your emotions right now?
You can tell, I'm pretty emotional over the whole thing.
What do you think is the future for USA Basketball?
It's going to be great. We have players willing to commit. We have coaches who are willing to commit and do their part. It's a great organization, and we represent the country well.
Does it feel special to succeed here at Saitama Super Arena, where the USA lost in the 2006 FIBA World Cup?
Yes. In fact, the first time I came in here a week ago, or whenever it was, it brought back all those memories of what happened in ’06 So, I got that monkey off my back, too.
As the architect of four gold medals, where does this one rank?
The best one is always the last one. That’s not taking away from any of the other others, but this one means a lot when you're walking away. To finish strong, that's what everyone dreams about.
USA head coach Gregg Popovich
Of course, we're thrilled with the wind this evening. But first of all, great respect for the French program. Coach (Vincent) Collet and his staff are magnificent. Their team covers all the bases. They play the right way. They play aggressively. It's just a fine, fine group that they have. To win the game is very satisfying, because they are such a wonderful basketball team. So, I give them a lot of credit, and, of course, we're thrilled and honored to be able to represent the country the way we did. The team progressed very rapidly in a very short period of time, under some difficult circumstances, which I think made this win all the sweeter. So, we're glad it's over.
I know you're always hesitant to ever make it about an individual, because this isn't about an individual but what was going through you mind when it set in that you had won?
I was totally frozen. I didn't do anything. I just sat there scared to death. I watched these guys play. I talked to the other coaches. It's sort of an out of out of body experience when you're in one of these kind of games. You compete, you know, once the ball goes up, you don't think about too much. You're just competing. It's before that's horrible, when you're thinking about you know, did you skip any steps, and what else can the other team do to you, and what do we have to do. Those are the tough moments. But while the game is going on, you don't really think that. If anything, one of the thoughts I actually had was thinking of Jerry Colangelo (USA Men’s National Team managing director) and Sean Ford (USA Basketball Men’s National Team director), who have been doing this for so long. And Jerry, this is his last stop with this particular part of his life. Although, you know, the legacy will always be there for him, and he'll always be a there ready for counsel. But that was one of our motivations, to do it for those two guys who have been with us for so long. Besides our families, ourselves, our country, you know, you do it for a lot of reasons. But once the game is on, you don't think too much about that. It’s before and after where it hits you.
How special is Kevin Durant as a player?
I know he played a great game. He scored a lot, but what I remember is Draymond Green knocking the ball off the rim on that free throw. Probably nobody noticed that. And that took one point off of there, which was really important for us. So, you know, coaches are a little bit sick, so that's how we think about things. But K.D. (Kevin Durant) is not special because he's so talented. The way he works on his game is more impressive. The relationships he builds with teammates, the respect. he garners, the joy he has in playing – it's like osmosis, it goes into all the other players and allows you to develop a camaraderie and an enjoyment to be together and to do that. And that sort of love of the game and love of people is what makes him more special than as a player.
I noticed you artfully dodged the question earlier about where this ranks. I know that every championship probably is different. But how long do you think you will soak this in? And will you be ready to come back and focus on the Spurs again?
You know what sayonara means? That's how I'm feeling right now. I agree with these guys. You know, every championship is special and the group, you're with a special, but I can be honest and say this is the most responsibility I've ever felt. Because you're playing for so many people that are watching for a country and other countries involved. The responsibility was awesome. And I felt that every day for several years now. So, I'm feeling pretty light now. And looking forward to getting back to the hotel and having something.
Kevin Durant (Brooklyn Nets)
We went through a lot, a lot of adversity, and we came together pretty fast. We built a bond with each other, that going to last lifetime, in my opinion. This group was special, and grateful to be a part of it, grateful that we could bring the gold back home.
In the immediate aftermath of everything you've just gone through, where does this rank or how does it compare to the other highlights you've had in your careers?
I hate to compare stuff, because, you know, everything is it’s own moment. But this is one of those special journeys that, you know, is hard to describe, because each and every one of us put in that work every single day, from coaches, to the trainers, to the players, we all came in with that goal of, ‘let's finish this thing off. Let's build a family. Let's build this team. Let's grow this team every day.’ And when you are part of a team that's, you know, evolving by the second, it’s just amazing to see. So each game, we continued to grow, our coaches continued to have more confidence in us, the players started to have more confidence in their roles. It's just a journey that was just so important. You realize, you know, you finish the job, you get the gold medal, you get the, you know, the trophy, but when you go through that journey, man, it's just incredible to be a part of something so special. And, I’m bonded with these guys for life, this family for life, and I'm just grateful that we all committed to this early and we stuck with it and finished it off.
You've done this three times now. How is this journey different?
Yeah, we had a lot of first time guys who were new to the experience. We lost some games. Never lost with Team USA before, so taking a loss was tough. I remember we had a team meeting after the first game against France. Pop (Gregg Popovich) wasn't there, but we had a team meeting on our own. You know when have a team meeting, you are kind of you at the bottom, you know. So, we just worked our way up from there. Everybody just committed to doing what's best for the group, no matter what. And it was just amazing to see that clock run to zero and us celebrating like that and then celebrate in the locker room. I mean it was incredible. I'm just happy to be here. I'm happy to be a part of this group for life and this gold back home. Like you said, a lot of people back home doubted us. A lot of people said it was going to be tough for us to win. And to be honest, they really don't matter, but you hear the noise so much. And we came together and finished it off, which is the perfect ending for us. So, we are looking forward to bringing this back home.
What is it about playing for USA Basketball that's so important to you?
It’s the camaraderie. I watch a lot of basketball, and I respect a lot of these players in the league. And we usually get the best players on this team, and so to build a camaraderie with the most talented guys in the world, to fight for your country, to represent my little section of the United States, my family, and everybody else doing the same. You know, it's special that we can come together for a common cause, because we battle against each other all year. We fight so hard to get this gold ball in the NBA, but for us to rise above that and become teammates and brothers for life against the rest of the world is just a huge, huge deal. And I'm always grateful for this opportunity. It’s always amazing to get with USAB. It's been my family since I got into the league. So, it's just that brotherhood that we created that I enjoy being a part of, and the journey of just working everyday with these guys. It brings me a lot of joy. I really, really enjoy it.
Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors)
Very special group. The sacrifices that this group made – leaving your families after such a strenuous season, to come over here, and three guys coming off a plane playing the game in the same day, coming from the NBA Finals, which is draining enough in itself. We had three guys, John Jenkins, Cam Reynolds and Josh Magette, who gave up their time with no reward in the end, except for to see this team win a gold medal. And, you know, those guys are special. We had nine guys and then, you know, we lost Brad. Shout out to Brad Beal, who made this commitment. You know, Kevin Love, you know, guys, you know, we started losing guys, and those guys were here doing everything we needed to win a gold medal. So, it's a very special group, and it's not just the 12 guys you actually saw win the gold medal. It’s coaching staff, all our coaching staff that came out to Vegas to help, training the staff. This was a total group effort, and it's a special one.
In the immediate aftermath of everything you've just gone through, where does this rank or how does it compare to the other highlights you've had in your careers?
For me, personally, this is right up there at the top. When you just think about the road traveled to get here. I mean, we're in one of the craziest times in this world, at least for anyone here. If you're here, it's probably one of the craziest times in the world that we've all seen. To be pushed back a year, you know, all the things that's going on, losing guys because of COVID, leaving your family, all of those things. And then the doubt, because as they say, every country continues to get better. And, you know, the doubt that we heard over and over again, even from, you know, you turn on sports talk in America, everybody was crushing us. This is special, and it ranks right up at the top for me.
What does this feel like?
It's great. You know, it’s a challenge to do special things. I know it seems as if it's come easy for so long. I played in 2016. It wasn't easy then. It wasn't easy this year, but nothing special, nothing worth having, you don't have to fight for. If it's worth having, you got to fight for it. We fought. They fought. I think the better team came out as gold medalists.
You've seen Kevin Durant an awful lot. How has he been through this tournament?
Kevin Durant is exactly who we thought he was. One of the greatest players to ever play this game. One of the most special guys you've ever seen lace their shoes up and take a basketball court – at seven feet, doing what he's doing. I mean, he's two inches shorter than Rudy Gobert doing what he's doing. That’s a special, special man. He carried his team like we needed him to, like he's supposed to. Coming back for his third Olympics – all-time USA scorer. There has been a lot of great players to don his jersey. He's number. That’s a special thing.
I'm wondering specifically what you guys thought about Jrue Holiday’s defense and was there ever a point over the past couple of weeks where any of you guys doubted he might have enough left in the tank?
No. Not at all. Jrue (Holiday) is one of the best defenders in our league and probably the best on-ball defender that the NBA has to offer. Him coming to this team and keeping his commitment was one of the main reasons we're sitting here as gold medalists. When you got a guy like that, that you can put on every team’s best guy, it makes it difficult for them. Evan Fournier has had an incredible tournament, an incredible Olympic run. He was five for 15 today. A lot of that had to do with Jrue’s ball pressure. And then guys also getting switched on to him, but Jrue made a fence. So now you get a switch, and all of a sudden you're not comfortable anymore. He made them uncomfortable. Everybody he guarded, he made them uncomfortable. And when you got that type of guy at the point of attack, for the rest of us that's behind him, it makes it a lot easier. Because he's essentially directing their guys where we want them to go. And so it was special for me, as someone who loves defense, it was special to play with someone that's at the level of defender that the Jrue Holiday is. And he was incredible on the offensive end. … You always need that guy. You got a defense, and defense is kind of like a fence. And you need that guy who can bend the fence. And he bent the fence, every game. He bent the fence. And then we got the great one (Kevin Durant), who comes behind him and score all the buckets. But bending that fence is important, and he bent every team's fence from from the time he stepped off the plane. We weren't able to capitalize on it in the first ame, but we capitalized the rest of them. And so, he was extremely special, and we couldn't have done this without him.
Jrue Holiday (Milwaukee Bucks)
Was that the kind of game you're expecting from them?
Yeah. I mean, the first game was also a close one – fought hard played well, but again, that was the first time that we actually played together full roster, so to meet them in the gold medal game is kind of fitting for us.
Can you explain your summer?
Yeah. Fought Devin Booker and the (Phoenix Suns), me and K-Mid (Khris Middleton) did to get an NBA Championship. That was tough. And then flying out here, getting in at like 12 or one in the morning. Playing France … Getting in at one that morning me Book (Devin Booker) and Khris, and then playing that night against France. Losing that game, and then being able to go through the tournament, the rest of the tournament, and meeting them in the championship, the gold medal game. I don't know, I guess me thinking about it, and me telling you that story, man, that's a hell of a summer.
France was trying to dump it inside. You in particular we're fighting down low. Can you talk about that fight?
It’s the gold medal game. There's no excuses. We knew kind of what they wanted to do. They did it in the first game, where they dumped it in and then (Evan) Fournier got off. So, you know, those two things that we felt like we had to clean up. We didn't want Fournier to go for 30 again, and then make Rudy (Gobert) another the other big fellas work for a little bit more.
Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers)
What does it mean to persevere and win this gold?
It’s a special feeling. We had some adversity early, short training camp. Everything happened kind of fast. We didn't have a lot of FIBA experience. A lot of people had a lot of things to say. We had some bumps in the road. We kept our heads down, kept working. We stayed together, and we still got to the ultimate goal. We are gold medalist now. It is a great feeling, and it's an honor to be here.
What does this mean for you personally?
I feel like I've had a lot of success in my career, but for me to be able to be a part of a team full of the best players in our league in NBA, for us to come together and accomplish something like this is special. You always want to win at the highest level. In the NBA, it’s the NBA Championship, and not a lot of people get that opportunity. Competing in the Olympics and winning a gold medal, not a lot of people get that opportunity. So to come here, my first Olympics and win a gold medal is a special feeling. It's my first experience as a professional winning at the highest level, so it's a great feeling.
Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics)
Who will be the first person you call?
I'm sure I will call my son and my mom. I know they were watching the game. So that’s the first person I’m going to call.
What you guys went through with the loss in Nigeria, and then you put it all together. That’s got to be a satisfying feeling?
Yeah, I think that is just part of it. We knew it wasn't going to be easy, and we weren't perfect, but we figured it out. That's all that matters. We came here, we got what we wanted, and it's time to go home.
What did you think of the critics after the very first loss against France?
Didn’t pay too much attention to it. You know, we still had a chance. We had to win every game and after that. I definitely brought us closer together. That's what we needed.
Did the international rules make this game more difficult for you?
I don’t know, it is just a lot different. You can smack the ball off the rim. Players, we can't call a time out. There's some things we had to get used to and keep reminding each other. Guys that were on the bench were telling the guys on the court. It’s a different style of basketball, but still basketball at the end of the day.
Do you want to come back for another Olympics?
I think so. This is fun, winning a gold medal. I am not going to think about the next one. I'm going to enjoy this one right now.
What was it like to play for Gregg Popovich?
It's great. To be on the team for his first gold medal as a coach, just being with him in 2019 and knowing we came up short. I know him and myself, I know Khris (Middleton) was on that team, we really wanted this bad.
What is like to play with Kevin Durant?
It's better to play with great players than against them. So, I'm so he’s on the team.
How good does this feel after being hurt and not playing during the 2019 FIBA World Cup?
It feels amazing – get some revenge back, overcome all we came through. It wasn't perfect. It wasn't easy, but we figured it out. It was worth it for sure.
How satisfying was it that you really had to battle France to win the gold?
We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We had to work for it. To win five games in a row, three tough games, it was worth it.
What were you trying to contribute?
Do whatever it took to win. It was all the marbles and just try to figure it out.