Saitama, Japan Spain won its first World Championship without its star in a performance worthy of a Hollywood script.
With the injured Pau Gasol cheering from the bench, Spain beat Greece, 70-47, Sunday night in an emotional victory some thought couldn't happen and few thought would be so easy.
Gasol led Spain (9-0) in scoring and rebounding throughout the tournament. When the 7-footer broke his foot with about a minute left in the 75-74 semifinal victory over Argentina, his team's gold-medal hopes dimmed considerably.
"Against Argentina, that was a night of pain and happiness, and it has become happiness," said Gasol, the world championship trophy on one side and the MVP award on the other. "It couldn't be any better today. It's hard to describe with words."
Gasol stood holding his head in his hands in the final seconds, openly in tears. It wasn't long before the Memphis Grizzlies center hopped to midcourt to join his teammates in a circle, sitting on the court wearing headbands given to them at the final buzzer.
"I was just super happy and couldn't contain myself from crying," he said.
Gasol averaged 21.3 points and 9.4 rebounds during the worlds. He has a partial fracture in his left foot, and the Grizzlies say he will need surgery.
"He's the best player in this tournament. I wanted to win this for him," Jose Calderon, who plays for the Toronto Raptors, said as he held up his gold medal. "We are a team. We had Pau in our minds. I think it was a special day."
Felipe Reyes started in Gasol's place and had 10 points in the first half, one less than he had in the whole tournament - he was limited to three games because of back problems. Gasol's younger brother, Marc, gave Spain big minutes early in the middle. He had three rebounds in the game's first 17 minutes. He averaged 1.9 coming into Sunday's game.
Everything went Spain's way as it took a 43-23 halftime lead. Jorge Garbajosa, who signed with the Raptors this summer, and Juan Carlos Navarro each had 20 points for Spain, which was fourth in 1982. Reyes finished with those 10 points, and Marc Gasol grabbed four more rebounds, but their play off the bench was much more than numbers.
Mihalis Kakiouzis had 17 points for Greece, which finished fourth in 1994 and 1998. This was Europe's third straight world title - Yugoslavia won in 1998 and 2002 - and it will have the home continent advantage in 2010 with the tournament to be played in Turkey.