Spain is a country that partied for days after winning the European Soccer Championships earlier this month.
Soccer dominates the sports scene, and the Spanish side is favored to win Olympic gold in London this summer. But Spain is also a basketball powerhouse and is currently ranked No. 2 in the world behind the U.S.
At a school gym, you’ll find Spaniards who actually know that. Basketball is growing in popularity among kids, especially girls.
“Basketball is a sport that’s beautiful for me,” says 13-year-old Lucia Gutierrez.
Gutierrez says her bedroom walls are plastered with posters of the Olympic team. Her teammate, 15-year-old María Lopez, chimes in.
“Basketball is a part of my life,” Lopez says.
Reaching The International Stage
A generation ago, basketball became a fixture in Spanish schools, and now that’s paying off as Spanish players make a mark far beyond their homeland.
“It’s a lot of work, and a little bit of luck. You know?” says Borja Castejon, the head of the Basketball Federation of Madrid, who has trained several Olympians.
There are now a dozen Spaniards in the NBA — including Pau Gasol, who plays for the Los Angeles Lakers.
“I think if Pau Gasol went to the metro, every person would try to make a picture with him,” Castejon says.
Now, Spanish basketball players are trying to translate their newfound fame into Olympic gold.
“Obviously the United States is the No. 1 team,” says Mark Elkington, a sports reporter who covers the Spanish team. He says the Spanish side would like to get a draw where they don’t have to play the Americans until the final.
“But you’re probably more than likely going to meet them in the final,” he adds. “And then it’s the case of, you know, you’ve got to play your absolute best game. I mean, they ran them very close in Beijing, but lost in the end.”
He was referring to the 2008 Olympic final, when the U.S. took the gold, beating Spain, 118-107. The Spaniards are gunning for a rematch.