Mission accomplished: Paul George and Tamika Catchings return home with gold medals

They went into the Olympics having different circumstances. Paul George was fired up to participate in international basketball and represent his country in doing so for the first time. It was a childhood dream.

Tamika Catchings, meanwhile, is in the final months of her professional career — she will retire at the conclusion of the Fever season — and had played a key role on the USA Basketball Women’s Olympic Team in each of the past three Olympic games. She already had three gold medals, and she wanted a fourth.

On Sunday afternoon, the men’s team captured its third consecutive gold medal and George had completed the final chapter in his comeback. He fought through his circumstances and had his toughness tested. He was resilient in the whole process to not only be named an NBA All-Star in his first full season back, but he was also a key contributor and the best defender on this Olympic Team.

“We came and we did what were supposed to do,” George said after winning gold. “We’re going home with this gold. This is what it’s for. This is what we made this commitment for … all to come together to do this thing. It’s amazing to go home with the best hardware you can get here.”

Catchings saw something different in George in early July when they were able to catch up out in Seattle before the Olympics. She saw a determination in the 26-year-old like she had not seen before.

“I think, just looking at him, you can tell he’s ready and focused — probably more focused that I’ve seen him in a long time as far as just wanting to be on a team that competes for a gold medal and wins,” he said.

George initially teetered on whether to play or not. He had played an entire NBA schedule, and shouldered the load in a seven-game first-round playoff series with Toronto. He then took a few weeks off, made the commitment, and got in the best shape of his life.

“This is a different opportunity,” George said when I asked him about Catchings’ comments. “This is a chance of a lifetime right here. I probably won’t compete for another of these ever in my life. And so to be in this moment now, you have to put everything towards it and I think that’s what I’ve done.”

On the plane heading to Rio, those two — representing the Pacers and Fever, respectively — posed for a photo together.

Then, they did it again two weeks later on the flight home, proudly showing off their gold medals.

Catchings later reposted the photo with the following comment: “ALL GOLD EVERYTHING!!! So proud of my Lil bro (Paul George) for coming out big with his FIRST Gold Medal! The will, the grit, the determination… that is what makes us Olympians! So fun seeing you grow over the years. Here’s to many more.”

For Catchings, this is it. (She thought London was it, and then she was talked into playing in one more Olympics.) She became one of four women’s basketball players to win four Olympic gold medals. She has 10 gold medals throughout her 20-year history with USA Basketball.

[Catchings bids farewell to her international career]

As for Paul, he locked in on his role as defensive specialist, a selfless move that helped the team.

Who knows what’s next for him? Come 2020, perhaps he’ll have more endorsement deals and set out to play in Tokyo. Or, maybe he’ll choose to invest his time into having a true offseason – a break away from the demanding NBA 82-game season.

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Both George and Catchings represented Team USA and Indiana very well, helping add to the United States’ dominance in the medal count. Even though both teams were heavily favored to win and won many games in a blowout fashion, how can you not enjoy some of the best in their craft performing on the big stage and doing it for their country.

I’m already having Olympics withdrawal. Anyone else?

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