Yao Ming overcame injuries just in time to run onto the court for China in the Preliminary Round and lead them into the Quarter-Finals while Greece were among three European sides to emerge from the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament, giving the continent six European teams in the field.
No team was playing better than Australia before the last eight, but the United States, coached by Mike Krzyzewski and led by Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, had too much firepower and pulled away from Pat Mills and his Boomers teammates.
There were blowouts in 2008, but also close games.
Argentina, with many of the veterans from the gold-medal winning team of 2004 like Manu Ginobili, Carlos Delfino and Andres Nocioni still in tow, bounced back from a narrow defeat to Lithuania in their opener and won four straight before edging Greece in a thrilling Quarter-Final.
They lost Ginobili to injury in the first half of 101-81 Semi-Final defeat to Team USA but then celebrated as if they'd captured gold when overcoming Lithuania 87-75 in the bronze-medal game.
After that game, Lithuania's outstanding small forward Ramunas Siskauskas announced his retirement from the national team.
Spain, who lost point guard Jose Calderon for the remainder of the tournament to injury late in their 72-59 Quarter-Final triumph over Croatia, got a combined 37 points from Pau Gasol and Rudy Fernandez in a 91-86 Semi-Final win over Lithuania.
In one of the best Olympic Finals of all time, the United States encountered a Spain team that was playing much better than the one they faced in the Preliminary Round and whipped 119-82.
With coach Aito Garcia-Reneses installing teenager Ricky Rubio as point guard, both teams razzled and dazzled but the Americans threatened to blow the game wide open in the first half.
Spain trailed by 14 yet battled back to 69-61 at half-time and then closed the gap to two with 8:13 left when Fernandez hit a three-pointer.
Led by Bryant, who had 20 points and was the most popular of all the players in Beijing, the Americans made the plays when they had to and prevailed 118-107 to return to the top of the podium.