TOKYO — Somewhere in the bowels of Saitama Super Arena, where the U.S. men’s basketball team had just won its fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal with an 87-82 victory over France, Jayson Tatum found the “super-champion.”
“This man is a super-champion,” Tatum said, slapping Jrue Holiday’s shoulders, which have carried plenty over the last few months. “Super-champion. You feel me?”
July 20 in Milwaukee: Holiday and the Milwaukee Bucks win the franchise’s first championship in 50 years.
Aug. 7 in Tokyo: Holiday scores 11 points in nearly 30 minutes to help the U.S. win gold.
Two days after the Bucks dispatched the Phoenix Suns in six games and hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy, Holiday, teammate Khris Middleton and the Suns’ Devin Booker boarded a plane for Japan. The flight landed around 1 a.m. local time. That night, all three played against France in Olympics group play, an 83-76 loss that doubters of U.S. basketball supremacy used as an opportunity to pounce.
The Americans won every game since, with Holiday assuming a spot in the starting rotation and playing a key role along the way.
“I guess me thinking about it and me telling y’all that story,” Holiday said minutes after the final buzzer, “that’s a hell of a summer.”
By winning the NBA title and Olympic gold in the same calendar year, Holiday and Middleton joined an exclusive group. LeBron James did it in 2012; Kyrie Irving four years later. Holiday and Middleton became the first pair of teammates to accomplish the feat since Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan did it as part of the 1992 “Dream Team.”
“He’s a NBA champion,” Holiday said of Middleton. “He’s an Olympic gold medal winner. He’s my brother, you know, us over these last few months has been crazy and we’ve done it together. I wouldn’t want to do it with anyone else.”
Draymond Green mentioned the sacrifices every member of the roster made, especially the trio who stepped onto the court not even a full day removed from their plane touching down in Japan.
“Coming from the NBA Finals,” Green said, “which is draining enough itself.”