An interesting exchange of tweets went down last Friday (yes, minus points for untimeliness, but on another job BallinEurope thought deep into the matter all weekend) between HoopsHype/ESPN Deportes writer Jorge Sierra and Team Australia/Milwaukee Bucks big man Andrew Bogut.
Things started innocuously enough, with Sierra plugging a Spanish-language piece he’d written for Deportes: “An article I penned about Pau Gasol’s Spain potentially being the best non-American team ever,” the HoopsHype tweet read.
To which Bogut shot back with, “@hoopshype Yugoslavia of the late 80s might disagree.”
And finally the exchange ended with Bogut’s terse tweeting of “@hoopshype didn’t say Petro. Said teams. Petro, Divac, Kukoc, Radja etc. I know who i’d take…”
It’s an interesting debate, particularly for those who remember actually seeing Drazen and the guys play in international competition. (Bogut was four years old in 1988 – November 1988 – and there’s no telling on Sierra. BiE was … well, let’s just say “old enough to have seen Team Yugoslavia.”) In fact, BallinEurope took on a similar subject a while back and decided that the post-communist Team Yugoslavia of 2001-02 captained by aging Vlade Divac was superior to any Spanish side since the decade turned – but that’s just one opinion…
Stating his own take on the matter in an article entitled “¿El Euro Dream Team?”, Sierra admittedly tempers his potential crowning of Team Spain as all-time greats with a qualifier that the Rojos will only bear this title should they bag gold in the 2011 FIBA World Championship and 2012 Olympics – quite a qualifer, indeed.
Much high praise in Sierra’s article goes to Pau Gasol and one double-take inducer is the subsequent comparison with Petrovic. Writes Sierra (translation BiE’s), “Spain has never produced so many quality players as in the last decade, but it was Lakers’ power forward that puts this team in contention for the best [European team of all-time]. Since 2003, Spain has played in the finals in five of the six tournaments he has participated. Gasol has won two gold medals (at the 2006 FIBA Worlds and 2009 Eurobasket) and three silvers (Eurobasket 2003 and 2007 and the 2008 Olympics).”
Sierra goes on to point out that Team Spain’s record in international tournaments is just 9-7 since 2003 without Gasol and 39-8 (.829) with him. Petrovic went 46-11 (.807) with Team Yugoslavia between 1984 and 1990 – Sierra himself might have been surprised at these numbers, because BiE sure was – but that .022 difference means about 9/10 of a single game in a 40-game schedule … can we call this even?
Additionally, Bogut may win this round based on his team argument: One key feature of Team Yugoslavia since 1984 and Petrovic’s recognition as a world-class star was the side’s nearly continuous improvement in tournament play:
1984 Olympics: finished 3rd
1985 EuroBasket: finished 7th
1986 World Championship: finished 3rd
1987 EuroBasket: finished 3rd
1988 Olympics: finished 2nd
1989 EuroBasket: finished 1st
1990 World Championship: finished 1st
1991 EuroBasket: finished 1st
Three straight annual titles is impressive enough, but it should be noted that the 1991 victory was accomplished without Petrovic; not only has Spain never achieved a threepeat, one can’t imagine this Spanish side taking any title without Pau – possibly until Marc takes over the duty in a few years.
Sierra notes that Spain’s mark is even more noteworthy due to the fact that Team Yugoslavia never faced an NBA “dream team” in international competition, while Gasol’s Teams Spain have taken three of their eight losses against Team USA, including two to the 2008 “Redeem Team.” Except that this is a petard upon which to be self-hoisted: American fans would certainly see the potential in marking that 2006 world champions with an important asterisk, i.e. *never faced the USA in tournament.
Spain is currently carrying eight players with an NBA pedigree besides Pau Gasol, according to Sierra: Marc Gasol (Memphis Grizzlies), Jose Calderon (Toronto Raptors), Rudy Fernandez (Dallas Mavericks), Serge Ibaka (Oklahoma City Thunder), Ricky Rubio (Minnesota Timberwolves), Juan Carlos Navarro (formerly of the Memphis Grizzlies), Sergio Llull (drafted by the Houston Rockets) and Victor Claver (drafted by the Portland Trailblazers).
But while the Yugoslavian players were playing their trade in a different era, the relative paucity of team members with NBA experience should show instead just how outstanding guys like Vlade Divac, Toni Kukoc, Dino Radja and the immortal Petrovic were. NBA CV aside, doesn’t a first eight of Divac, Petrovic, Kukoc, Radja, Žarko Paspalj, Predrag Danilović, Stojan Vranković, and Jure Zdovc sound pretty fearsome in an all-time tournament?
If Sierra sees a potential weakness of the 2011 Team Spain as dealing defensively with playmakers like Danilo Gallinari, Hedo Turkoglu and Luol Deng, what in Naismith’s name would they have done against the multifaceted Petrovic and Kukoc?
Perhaps it’s a few years – two, including two more international tournament wins – before this debate can be more clearly settled, but FEB president José Luis Sáez is probably dead on when he states that “El rival de España en el Eurobasket es España.” For now, they’re favorites; in the all-time argument game, well, BiE’s still leaning toward Yugoslavia.