Kevin Garnett put an exclamation point on the United States' dominance in the Tournament of the Americas by dunking Jason Kidd's alley-oop pass with just more than five minutes left in the U.S. team's 92-66 victory over Canada in the gold medal game tonight.
With the crowd of 4,000 on its feet, Garnett took a bow shortly before being replaced by rookie Elton Brand. It seemed a perfect curtain call for the lanky forward, except he had to come back into the game about a minute later after rookie Wally Szczerbiak inadvertently smacked teammate Tom Gugliotta on his already broken nose, opening a cut that forced Gugliotta's exit.
Garnett threw down one more alley-oop dunk, this off a pass from Tim Hardaway. Guard Steve Smith capped 10 games worth of highlights with an 18-foot baseline hook shot as time expired. It was a fitting finish for the Americans, whose margin of victory in these games was 31.6 points.
"My thing was to come out and play with as much energy as I could," said Garnett, who received a second standing ovation when his gold medal was placed around his neck. "Basketball is entertainment, and I'm glad these people came out and enjoyed it."
Other than playing for the gold medal, this game was meaningless. The United States and Canada already qualified for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney with victories over Argentina and Puerto Rico, respectively, in Saturday's semifinals.
The United States was undefeated in 10 games. Canada lost twice to the United States and once to Puerto Rico in the second round.
Guard Gary Payton had 19 points for the U.S. team. He and guard Jason Kidd also had a game-high three steals each. Six other players scored in double figures.
For Canada, center Todd MacCullough, a second-round draft pick of the Philadelphia 76ers, scored a game-high 22 points, showing off for U.S. Coach Larry Brown, also head coach of the 76ers.
"We came here and tried to play together. We played the right way and I'm pleased with the outcome," Brown said. "We're all looking forward to going to Sydney."
The game itself provided little drama. Canada pulled to 48-40 after Michael Meeks sank a 15-foot jump shot at the beginning of the second half, but the United States countered with a 15-0 run to go up 63-40. Payton had seven points in the decisive surge.
The U.S. team probably would not have had to go through this nearly two-week exercise had it qualified for the Olympics by winning the gold medal at the world championships in Athens last summer.
That U.S. team was a very different squad.
The labor strife that eventually led to the NBA lockout caused USA Basketball, the governing body for U.S. international teams, to drop the NBA players after they threatened to boycott the world championships. They were replaced by Continental Basketball Association and Europe-based players who could not match up with world champion Yugoslavia. Finishing third highlighted the need for the United States to use its best players from the NBA because other countries have significantly improved, some players here said.
Although having college players on the team has not been ruled out in future years, the three NBA draft picks on this team -- including the Wizards' Richard Hamilton, who did not play because of a sprained ankle -- probably will be replaced by NBA veterans in Sydney.
"The USA doesn't like to lose," Hardaway said. "Everybody has their best ballplayers out there -- why not keep having ours out there?
"I'm sure there will come a time when some people say, `You're winning all the time, you're taking everything -- let's go back to the colleges and see if we can still do it that way.' "
The last time the United States used an all-collegiate team in the Olympics was in 1988, when it took the bronze medal. It was the second and final loss by the Americans in Olympic play. To date, the United States has a 101-2 record since basketball was introduced at the Olympics in 1936. The only other loss was the controversial defeat to Russia in the gold-medal game in 1972.
In 1992, the first Dream Team featured Larry Bird, Clyde Drexler, Patrick Ewing, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley among other future Hall of Famers, and it won the gold medal. Since then, NBA players have dominated the Olympic rosters for the United States. "When other players bring out their best soccer players or skaters, nobody says anything about them winning all the time," Smith said.
U.S. JUNIORS LOSE: Juan Navarro scored 27 points to lead European champion Spain to a 94-87 victory over the United States for the world junior basketball title in Lisbon.
German Gabriel added 17 points for Spain. Bobby Simmons led the United States with 19.