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Irving joins select company of MVPs
MADRID (FIBA Basketball World Cup) - Opportunities to play in FIBA Basketball World Cups or Olympic Games don't come around often.
To compete in one of those major championships happens even less frequently. To be MVP of one of these tournaments is rarer.
In the last two decades, since NBA players have competed at the FIBA Basketball World Cup, six players have stood above the rest and been the Most Valuable Player.
The 2.16m center's numbers would have been greater if he'd remained on the court longer but there was no need as the Americans were so convincing in their triumphs.
He averaged 17.1ppg.
O'Neal went on to capture an Olympic title (1996) and NBA crowns (2000, '01, '02 and '06).
A versatile 2.08m guard, Bodiroga, 25 at the time, hit double-digits in scoring in all but one game in Athens, a 99-54 blowout of Japan when he played only 15 minutes.
His signature performance was against hosts Greece in the Semi-Finals. Bodiroga hit nine of his 12 shots from the floor and wound up with 31 points.
A three-time champion of the Euroleague who shone for giant clubs like Real Madrid, Panathinaikos and FC Barcelona, Bodiroga had many of his brightest moments with his national side.
From that year's title-winning Yugoslavia side, Predrag Stojakovic stood above the rest as the team's most reliable scorer (18.8ppg). In a pivotal Quarter-Final triumph over USA which ensured a squad of NBA players would be denied the title for the first time, Stojakovic made three of five shots from long range and scored a game-high 20 points.
The man whose fame reached new heights four years later at the FIBA World Championship in Japan was Pau Gasol of Spain. The NBA center led Spain with averages of 21.3ppg 9.4rpg and more than 2.4bpg. Gasol was so dominant in the tournament that he was named the MVP despite not playing in the championship game against Greece after getting injured in the Semi-Final win over Argentina.
Kevin Durant left no doubt about his status as the brightest star of the 2010 FIBA World Championship in Turkey, where he led the USA to the top of the podium. Durant's 22.8ppg and 45.6 percent shooting from the arc made him the most dangerous offensive weapon in the 24-team tournament. His last three performances were breathtaking. Durant had 33 points in the Quarter-Final win over Russia, 38 in the Semi-Final triumph over Lithuania and 28 in the title win against Turkey.
In 2014, Kyrie Irving joined O'Neal and Durant as Americans to claim the MVP award. He signed off from the FIBA Basketball World Cup with a near flawless performance for the USA in their 129-92 over Serbia. Irving made all six of his three-pointers and finished with 26 points. His 60.9 percent (14 of 23) shooting from the arc in the tournament was second only to Dominican Republic marksman Francisco Garcia. How important was the experience for Irving? "This is one of the greatest moments in my life," he said.
"I did this with guys I can call my brothers for the rest of my life."