Deron Williams was so excited about one particular souvenir he picked up while on a recent business trip in China, he didn't let it out of his sight during his 24-hour-long return flight to Utah.
And, FYI, this souvenir wasn't one of the ones he enjoyed bartering for while visiting the Great Wall.
It was, of course, the Olympic gold medal he won with Team USA in Sunday's epic international battle against Spain.
"I wore it the whole trip home," Williams admitted, "just because I didn't want to lose it."
Or stop admiring it.
Still a bit jet-lagged and definitely still basking in Olympic glory and pride, the Utah Jazz point guard took some time out of his suddenly wide-open schedule Thursday to show off his newly acquired prize possession he obtained in Asia, and to share a few memories of his adventures as a contributing member of the mission-accomplished "Redeem Team."
Williams' favorite Beijing experience was his team's grand finale, which ended when he, Carlos Boozer and 10 other American basketball stars stood atop the Olympic podium, received gold medals and soaked in every note of the national anthem while the world watched.
That golden moment not only capped off what he and the U.S. hoops team did over the summer, but it was one of the greatest basketball moments of Williams' life.
"It was real special," he said.
Making it all the more special for Williams was the fact that winning the Olympic tournament also marked the first time in his career on any level that his team won a championship. He came close at Illinois, losing in the NCAA championship game, and then advanced to the Western Conference Finals with the Jazz two seasons ago before getting eliminated a round too early.
"It was just a great experience for me," Williams said. "Playing against the competition we did in the Olympics, it was just a great experience a great way to spend the summer, basketball wise and personal wise."
Though he enjoyed China, Williams didn't do many touristy things. He learned how to say "hi" and "thank you" in Mandarin, but he admitted to not eating outside of the hotel except for visits to the California Pizza Kitchen and Tony Roma's in Shanghai.
Williams reluctantly took a trip to the Great Wall but was thankful he did afterward in part because of the enormity of the world wonder and partly because he got a kick out of trying to make deals with the locals on trinkets.
"Once I got up there and saw how special it was and to think about how many people died building that and how it big it was, it was just amazing that that could be man-made," he said. " It was a great experience for me. I'm glad I went."
Many of Williams' favorite Olympic memories revolve around interactions he had with American athletes from Boozer and the rest of this teammates to time spent with participants such as Michael Phelps he's excited about a picture he got taken with him and Chris Paul and Utah beach volleyball player Jake Gibb to watching events like women's hoops and beach volleyball.
"We respect every other athlete out there," he said. "Maybe we're more recognizable than a lot of people, but we recognize them and their talents and respect what they do."
Williams didn't start, but he played his way into the U.S. three-point-guard rotation, even getting time at the shooting guard position. During the Olympics, he averaged 19 minutes, eight points and just under three assists per game while splitting time with Paul and starter Jason Kidd.
Williams is proud of how Team USA players put individual glory and stats on the back burner in the interest of team unity as the squad tried to regain its spot atop the world after only earning bronze in 2004.
Defense, he said, was their "greatest asset."
"It was all about the benefit of the team and about the USA on the front of our jerseys and not the names on the back," he said.
As for his future plans, Williams said he'd love to keep his summer schedules clear for 2010 and 2012, when international play heats up again.
"If you asked me right now, I said, 'Yeah, I want to play,"' he said. "If they want me back, I'm there."Williams, however, has two bigger priorities for the immediate future. He needs to find a safe spot for his gold medal, and he needs "to get caught up on my sleep."
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