Top basketball players to watch in Rio
Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings
While not specifically an athlete, these three -- Taurasi, Bird and Catchings -- are inextricably tied. The trio has been the standard bearers for ladies’ hoops for almost two decades and has the opportunity to tie the record for most gold medals won in Olympic basketball with four. All three are most likely playing in their last Olympics; Catchings would be 41 years old in Tokyo, Bird 39 and Taurasi 34. They are each among the best women to ever play their positions and Taurasi is arguably the greatest player in the history of the women’s game. Bird and Taurasi will be playing for their college coach, UConn’s Geno Auriemma, for the second straight Olympics, while Catchings has the opportunity to further the late Pat Summit’s legacy with a fourth straight gold medal in Rio.
In his fourth Olympic appearance, Anthony has the chance to tie the record for most gold medals in Olympic men’s basketball and become the most decorated U.S. men’s basketball player in the history of the Games. Anthony began his Olympic journey as a 20-year-old who came off of the bench and played sparingly as part of the USA’s disappointing bronze medal-winning squad in Athens. He was then a key member of the gold medal-winning 2008 and 2012 teams, helping to usher in a new era of USA Basketball. Now the elder statesman on the team at 32 years old, Anthony is one of just two holdovers from the 2012 squad and will be counted on to help bridge the gap between generations of U.S. Olympic basketball.
Gasol’s Spanish team has lost to the United States in the last two gold medal games and was eliminated from medal contention by the U.S. in 2004. Can he finally put his country over the top in Rio? If he does, it’ll be the crowning achievement of his career as he will be without his brother Marc and fellow Spanish big man Serge Ibaka. Gasol has led Spain in scoring and rebounding in each of the previous three Games and will probably need to do so again in Rio if Spain hopes to make a third straight appearance in the Olympic final.
With Catchings, Taurasi and Bird playing in possibly their last Olympic Games, Stewart represents the future of U.S. women’s basketball. Stewart is coming off of four straight NCAA championships with UConn where she played for USA Olympic coach Geno Auriemma. If the U.S. wins the tournament in Rio, Stewart will be the only player in the men’s or women’s game to have four NCAA titles followed by an Olympic gold. The youngest woman on the team, playing time may hold her back from unleashing her full potential in the 2016 Games.
Though he was the leading scorer in London, Durant was still overshadowed by the likes of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. With the departure of 10 of the 12 players from the London team however, Durant can become the guy for the United States in Rio. Durant has had a tumultuous summer after signing with the Golden State Warriors in free agency and will be eager to get back to just playing basketball with the Olympic team. It’ll also serve as an early preview of how Durant meshes with his new NBA teammates Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Alongside Anthony, Durant will be counted on to lead a fresh-faced stars and stripes squad to gold this summer.
Honorable mentions: Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Maya Moore, Nikola Jokic, Elena Delle Donne