Is Spain the greatest sporting country in the world?

We like to think and pretend we’re a great sporting nation, but a Spanish team or athlete wins again to put things into perspective – and us in our place.

Last Sunday evening, just seven days after 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz Garfia became both US Open champion and world number one in men’s tennis, the Spanish basketball team beat France in the final of the ‘Eurobasket, the equivalent of the Euros in the second most popular team sport on the continent and in the world.

In a way, it was a surprise. France won silver against the United States at last year’s Olympics and featured several NBA stars, including Rudy Gobert, a perennial All Star and Defensive Player of the Year. The only two active NBA players on the Spanish roster were the Hernangomez brothers: Juancho, previously known for starring as Bo Cruz alongside Adam Sandler in the highly acclaimed Netflix film Hustle, and his brother Willy, a player role with New Orleans. Pelicans.

The same month Hustle was released, Juancho was released by the Utah Jazz, only to be picked up on a one-year league minimum wage by the Toronto Raptors. An NBA player, he and his brother may be; NBA stars, like their compatriots who were the Gasol brothers, are not.

Yet that’s how they played last Sunday night in Berlin. Juancho, who had averaged just 11 points per game for the tournament heading into the final, morphed into the Cruz character he played and which Sandler found in Hustle, amassing 27 points, including a remarkable seven on nine on three- point range. Willie, the tournament MVP, added 14 points. But it wasn’t so much how the Hernangomez brothers played above themselves. This is how their national team once again played more than the sum of their parts.

In the last 23 years, the Spanish men’s team has won four Eurobaskets, won the other seven medals, won two FIBA ​​World Cups and twice an American team with Kobe Bryant and LeBron James at their peak in the game for the Olympic gold medal.

In short, no other country in sports has a knack for making the most of its resources. The Gasols’ golden generation may be gone and retired, but their legacy is not. As well as winning the senior Eurobasket, the country won the U20 and U18 Eurobaskets last summer, finished second in the U16s and only came second behind the United States at the U17 World Cup.

It even extends to women’s football. Last summer, the country participated at the A level of the European or world competition in the U16, U17, U18 and U20 women’s competitions. And again they won medals in every category, winning Eurobasket U20, finishing second only to the United States in the U17 World Cup and losing by four points or less in the Eurobasket U16 and U18 finals.

This is an exceptional record, even though the country is the sixth most populous country in Europe.

And yet, in the country itself, basketball is no exception.

In almost all major team sports, Spain are extremely competitive.

Their national men’s football team remains the only country to have won three consecutive major tournaments (Euro 2008, World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012). Its golden generation of Xavi and Iniesta may be gone, as are the Gasols, but it’s not as if the country has become irrelevant; remember that they were beaten on penalties only by the future Italian champions in the semi-finals of the Euro last year.

Their Olympic men’s handball team has won four of the last seven summer games.

No country in this century has won more Davis Cups; in November, they bid for a seventh since the start of the millennium, when the maximum anyone else has won is three.

And that’s to say nothing of all the outstanding individual athletes the country has produced over the past two decades. Nadal. Garcia. Alonso.

So how do you explain their excellence, especially in team sport? A major catalyst was the country that hosted the 1982 World Cup and the 1992 Olympics, triggering huge interest and subsequent financial investment in the sport, especially in public facilities.

But their real competitive advantage, which even the American basketball community has conceded, is their approach to coaching. In the United States, sport has traditionally been very exercise-oriented. Post-Franco Spain has instead left the players to play and decide. Let the game – and the mistakes – teach them, not necessarily the coach.

Jota Cuspinera, coach within the Spanish national program, elaborated on this theme during an interview with the Basketball Immersion podcast.

“When I was coaching our U16 and U18 national teams, I would look at our opponents during the warm-up and say ‘How can we beat these guys? They are better physically, they are probably more skilled than us.

“But we let our players solve a lot of their problems. We leave plenty of room for them to find their own ways to play. We give them the opportunity to make their own decisions in court. When they do something but they don’t reach the goal – say get a basket – we don’t focus on the result but on what they are trying to do.

“And if we find that they’re trying to come up with a good solution, we let them start over. We let them try different solutions on their own instead of always telling them what to do. Of course, we tell them things to do, but we’re not always saying ‘You have to do this’ and ‘You can’t do this.’ It’s “Try it. And if it works, start over. And it doesn’t work, try something else.” We give them freedom.”

Sunday night in Berlin was a good example. Again, they didn’t have the superior physical or technical prowess, but what they did have was remarkable synergy and ability to make the right decision. Just like all of their minor teams who had teams on the podium earlier this summer.

Long after their golden generations, Spain looks set to continue delivering gold for generations to come.

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