SAITAMA, Japan — The members of the U.S. ladies’s basketball crew lined up on the courtroom at Saitama Super Arena, stepped onto the highest podium and raised their arms above their heads.
The scene, in some methods, was novel and unfamiliar. Thick white masks obscured the decrease halves of the gamers’ faces. The seats in the stands behind them had been empty. But in different methods, it was precisely what the basketball world has seen from the American ladies’s crew for greater than twenty years.
The United States dominated on the courtroom in the ultimate of the Olympic match, beating Japan, 90-75, to declare the crew’s seventh consecutive gold medal. The Americans’ expertise was unmatched all through a Games during which they didn’t lose. And in the center of the crew image afterward had been the smiling faces of two veteran guards, Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, who received their first gold medal earlier than a few of their present teammates had began kindergarten.
Bird and Taurasi claimed their fifth gold medal, a document for basketball gamers at the Olympics. Each collected her first at the 2004 Games in Athens, and they’ve been stalwarts of the crew ever since, taking the baton from the gamers who got here earlier than them and attempting to cross on one thing to the technology to come.
“Hopefully we left some sort of a legacy for the younger players where they now can carry that torch,” mentioned Bird, who had 7 factors and Three assists in the gold medal sport. “To be sitting here now after going through 20 years of that, it’s amazing.”
Bird, 40, confirmed that these could be her final Olympics (“No one has to ask about it anymore,” she mentioned). Taurasi (7 factors, Eight assists, 6 rebounds) additionally appeared to recommend as a lot, speaking nostalgically about her worldwide profession after the sport.
But when she was requested, level clean, if she would be part of Bird in stepping apart, Taurasi didn’t rule out enjoying at the 2024 Games, when she shall be 42.
“I love Paris,” Taurasi mentioned between sips of Champagne. “They have beautiful buildings there, great fashion.”
The worldwide careers of Bird and Taurasi sparkled towards a bigger backdrop of excellence from the nationwide crew. The ladies’s crew, filled with W.N.B.A. stars, has received 55 consecutive video games at the Olympics. The final time it misplaced on this match was in 1992, at the Barcelona Games.
The crew’s run of consecutive Olympic titles has now matched the run of seven by the American males’s crew, from 1936 to 1968.
Amid a generational changeover, there have been loads of assurances on Sunday that the future would stay equally shiny.
The Americans’ sport plan, which by no means stopped working, was to get the ball inside to Brittney Griner. She led the crew in scoring with 30 factors and hardly missed a shot, ending 14 for 18 from the subject.
As Griner spoke after the sport in the tunnel subsequent to the courtroom, her teammates playfully teased her about her large sport. Griner shouted again, “Can I get some barbecue sauce for that 30-piece?”
Her totals weren’t the solely eye-popping stat line of the night time. Breanna Stewart, 26, had 14 factors, 14 rebounds, 5 assists, four steals and Three blocked photographs. And A’ja Wilson, who turned 25 on Sunday, had 19 factors and 5 blocks.
All three gamers had nothing however reward, and respect, for the longevity and legacy of Bird and Taurasi.
“I’m sitting in the locker room like, ‘They really did this five times?’” Wilson mentioned. “At the opening ceremony, I was like: ‘Five times? My feet hurt!’ But it’s real. It makes you want to come back and continue to give and to build for the next generation.”
Japan, undersized and overmatched, relied on its outdoors taking pictures to preserve the rating shut in the first half on Sunday. But the Americans had been too scientific round the basket, too robust on protection, too tall in the paint. The United States registered 12 blocks as a crew; Japan completed with none.
Maki Takada led Japan with 17 factors, and Nako Motohashi added 16 whereas going four for five from 3-point vary.
Tears flowed for a number of Japanese gamers after the ultimate buzzer, a typical scene for Japanese athletes who failed to win gold at these Games, however the sorrow appeared to final just a few seconds. In reality, Japan’s silver was a positive accomplishment for a crew that had by no means earlier than reached the medal spherical. As the American crew celebrated on the courtroom, the Japanese gamers shaped a hoop at midcourt and bowed towards the stands.
All sport lengthy, they’d acquired energetic help from a number of hundred Games employees members and volunteers who had taken seats in the stands to watch. Their ultimate act drew a heat, appreciative spherical of applause. When the Japanese gamers acquired their medals, they celebrated as jubilantly as the Americans.
“We were lucky there wasn’t 30,000 Japanese fans in that building today, because it would have been a different ballgame,” Taurasi mentioned.
The U.S. coach, Dawn Staley, who performed on the 2004 crew that delivered Bird and Taurasi’s first medals, received her first gold medal as a coach. She has three as a participant, together with one from the 1996 Atlanta Games, the Olympics that began the Americans on their present gold medal streak.
After the sport, Staley mentioned that she, too, could be stepping away from the crew.
“Who else is going to sit on this podium in 2024 without them?” Staley mentioned, smiling as she checked out Bird and Taurasi. “I’m not.”