Basketball If U.S. fans didn't know how good Spanish basketball was before 2008, they found out at the Beijing Olympics when the Spaniards shocked Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and others, scoring 107 points in a heroic losing effort and taking the silver medal. There are currently five Spaniards in the NBA, including the Lakers' Pau Gasol, Toronto's Jose Calderon, and Minnesota's Ricky Rubio, the fifth overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft.
Tennis Spanish men and women have been at the top of tennis for two decades. Since the Spanish sporting revolution began in the 1980s, the Spanish men's and women's teams have gone through an amazing run. The men have won five of the last 12 Davis Cups, while the women, since 1991, have made the finals of the Fed Cup 11 times, winning five.
This year's French Open winner, Rafael Nadal, has staked a claim as the best player of our time and is currently rated No. 2 in the world. At least five other Spaniards are currently ranked in the top 25. Spanish tennis techniques are regarded as so state-of-the-art that Scottish star Andy Murray chose to train in Spain.
Cycling Spaniards have won four of the last six Tour de France races; that would be five out of six, but Alberto Contador had his 2010 title stripped when he tested positive for the performance enhancing drug clenbuterol (which he claims he got from eating contaminated beef). Spanish riders have also won eight of the last 12 races in their own country's prestigious Vuelta a Espana (Tour of Spain), and the greatest of cyclists from Spain, Miguel Indurain, won the Tour de France every year from 1991 through 1995.
These are just the four most popular sports in Spain. You can also find Spanish names in the ranks of Formula One racing, where two-time world champions Fernando Alonso is currently No. 2 in the F1 rankings; golf, where Sergio Garcia was ranked as one of the world's top ten golfers for much of this century and is currently No. 22;.and even rugby, a sport in which there are more than 20,000 registered union players. Rugby hasn't yet produced any nationally known names from Spain, but the game can claim at least one star: former player turned actor, Academy Award-winner Javier Bardem.
Most observers of the Spanish sports scene agree that there are three major dates in the evolution of their sports supremacy. The first is November, 1975, when Franco's death unleashed a wave of energy that had been suppressed for two generations. The second key date was the 1982 World Cup hosted by Spain. Though the team failed to make it past the second group, the games ignited the Spanish passion for soccer. Then, in 1992, the Barcelona Olympics put the Spanish flair for sport and drama on international display.
According to sportswriter Juan Jose Paradinas, there is one other huge factor in the Spanish sporting surge: money. He told me in an interview last year, "The Barcelona Olympics unleashed a torrent of money from both the government and private sources to build sports facilities all over the country and support sports which had not previously had support in Spain. By the end of the decade, we saw the results. Now Spanish sports make money. Real Madrid may be the most profitable football [soccer] club in the world."