BEIJING: Spain’s Marc Gasol is one victory away from a rare feat — winning the NBA crown and a Basketball World Cup in the same year.
Only Lamar Odom, a double winner in 2010 with the US and the Los Angeles Lakers, has ever managed that, according to basketball’s governing body FIBA.
Now the center Gasol, who played a key role in the Toronto Raptors’ run to the NBA title, is on the verge of joining him in the history books.
The 34-year-old proved his enduring quality by saving Spain in Friday’s double overtime victory over Australia to set up a World Cup final against Argentina on Sunday in Beijing.
He had 33 points, six rebounds and four assists after stepping up when his country needed him most.
Gasol, who also lifted the world crown with Spain in 2006, said he was less interested in his personal landmark and more motivated by what it means for his country.
“I just cherish every moment for what it is,” the three-time NBA All-Star told FIBA. “I don’t try to double up. I want to give the maximum for every occasion.
“It is two completely different situations. I’m going to give my best to win a World Cup for Spain.”
Outgoing champions Team USA won their final match at the Basketball World Cup — but it was still their worst finishing place in the tournament’s history.
Gasol admitted that playing matches every other day in China soon after a long NBA season was tough.
“I knew that committing to the national team this summer would not be easy physically because we were so lucky to stretch our (NBA) season and get away with a championship,” he said.
“But it’s completely worth it.”
Few predicted a Spain-Argentina final.
But quarter-final defeats for reigning two-time champions the US and title favorites Serbia left the door open for the remainder of the field.
Argentina were convincing 80-66 winners over France in their semifinal with their 39-year-old talisman Luis Scola propelling them into the showdown with Spain.
Scola finished with 28 points, 13 rebounds and two assists, and was given a huge ovation when he stepped off the court near the end.
Argentine coach Sergio Hernandez said there was no secret ingredient to Scola’s success, even as middle age approaches.
“He works so hard,” said Hernandez, explaining how Scola had locked himself away in his own training camp at the start of the summer.
“He was in his house, in the middle of nowhere, for 14 weeks in a row,” said Hernandez.
“He made a basketball court and was there was a basketball trainer and a physical trainer.”
Argentina’s only previous World Cup success came as hosts in the inaugural edition in 1950.
Also on Sunday, Australia, who led for long periods against Spain, play France for bronze.