Olympic Tournament History

 

The origins of basketball || Early stages and development || Berlin 1936 || London 1948 || Helsinki 1952 || Melbourne 1956 || Roma 1960 || Tokyo 1964 || Mexico 1968 || Munich 1972 || Montreal 1976 || Moscow 1980 || Los Angeles 1984 || Seoul 1988 || Barcelona 1992 || Atlanta 1996 || Sydney 2000 || Athens 2004 || Beijing 2008 || London 2012 || Rio de Janeiro 2016

 

 

 

THE ORIGINS OF BASKETBALL

 

It is well known that the game of “Basket-ball” was invented by Dr. James Naismith in 1891 at Springfield College but, under which circumstances? Before his arrival, PE classes during the cold winter consisted on a series of very boring exercises (the kind of “Hands on hips! Lean forward!”) which fell short for the energy of a group of young students, who demanded something more enjoyable, more dynamic, more active. Even under the cold and snow of the winter, the students preferred to go out and “play” something, with the risk of suffering an injury. When Dr. Gulick, sport director at Springfield College (Massachusetts), asked Mr. Naismith to think of a game to capture the interest of students during the winter PE classes, he first tried indoor American football and soccer, but the gym was too small for this.

 

One day, when Mr. Naismith was on the point of going to Dr. Gulick’s office and relinquish his task, he suddenly thought of a game which should have a goal but also certain difficulties. This game should be played with a ball, but bigger and heavier than that of football, with a firm and even form to pass it with the hands and therefore avoid the risk of collision between players. But the greatest idea Naismith came up with was to set the goal of the game in the air, over three and a half meters up, to make it more difficult to score and also to defend. But, what should this goal look like? The solution came almost immediately, as the school janitor, Mr. Stebbins, offered him two fruit baskets which were lying around in the storeroom. Naismith took these baskets and hung them from the gym wall bars at exactly 3.05 m (which is where they have remained until today). He then went on to write the first 13 rules of the game. Initially, the only problem of this new game was to retrieve the ball after scoring a goal, since no-one came up with the idea of a bottomless basket and some students had to climb a ladder, get the ball and return it to the court.

 

Once this new game was invented and proved successful among students, only one more thing was left: how to call it? One of Naismith’s students, Frank Mahan, originally proposed the name “Naismith-Ball”, but this was rejected by the inventor, and then asked the question: “Isn’t it played with a ball that you throw into a basket? Why not call it basket-ball?” So it was. The rest is history…

 

The first basketball match was played in December 1891 in Springfield College between two school teams who had to learn the rules on the court under Naismith’s direction, and the final score was… 1-0! Little by little, the new game gained popularity and was introduced in many parts of the United States. With the announcement of the III Olympic Games to be held in St. Louis in 1904, a demonstration tournament was organized under the name of “Olympic World Basketball Championship” with the participation of five US teams: Buffalo German YMCA, Chicago Central YMCA, Xavier Athletic Club (New York), Turner Tigers (Los Angeles) and Missouri Athletic Club (St. Louis). The tournament, held in only two days (July 15 and 16), attracted little or no interest from the media, as no medals were awarded. Incidentally, it can be mentioned that Buffalo German YMCA was the winner, with the following men: Alfred Heerdt, Albert Manweiler, George Redlein, William Rhode, Edward Miller, Charles Monahan, W.A. Williams.

 

 

EARLY STAGES AND DEVELOPMENT

 

After World War I, basketball was introduced in Europe by American soldiers who astonished everyone who saw them trying to put a huge ball into improvised baskets. However, it was still a minority sport, and it failed to be included in the Olympic Games of 1908, 1912 and 1916. In June 1919, the first international tournament was celebrated in Paris with three teams from the United States, Italy and France (of course, the Americans won it easily).

 

The situation of basketball before the creation of FIBA in 1932 was somehow chaotic, and in fact it was the IAAF (international Amateur Athletic Federation) the body responsible for its organization. In 1926, the IAAF set up a commission to study the full integration of handball and basketball. Two years later, at the Amsterdam Olympic Games, the IAAF considered the possibility of creating an independent governing body for all land sports in which the ball was played solely with the hands, and on August 4, 1928 the IAHF (International Amateur Handball Federation) was formed to assume this function. Three sub-commissions were set up after this: one for indoor handball, one of outdoor handball, and one for basketball. However, the basketball commission of IAHF wasn’t enough for a game with more and more players, and finally, on September 1, 1932, basketball achieved complete independence from the IAHF with the creation of FIBA (French abbreviation for International Amateur Basketball Federation), with Renato William Jones as General Secretary.

 

Two years after its creation, FIBA reached a landmark achievement in having basketball included as an olympic sport for the 1936 Games in Berlin. Preparation for the Olympics were key, and in 1933 it was decided that a European Championship would be held as a test event for the Games.

 

 

XI GAMES OF THE OLYMPIAD (BERLIN 1936)

 

After being officially recognized as an olympic sport in 1930, in October 1934 the Organizing Committee decided to include basketball—together with polo—in the programme of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Previously, basketball had been introduced as a demonstration sport (with no medal awarded) at the 1904 games in St. Louis, Missouri. The first presentation of an olympic basketball tournament in 1936 attracted 23 nations, in itself an olympic record.

 

The basketball rules at the time differed considerably from those of today. One of them was the possibility to register up to 14 players, but only seven could be on the court: the initial five and two substitutes. In addition, after each basket the referee had to throw the ball up between two players in the center of the court. This, combined with the fact that all the games were played in the open on the clay tennis courts of Reichssportfeld, resulted in slow, rhythm-less games with low scoring. Besides, the last two days of the competition rain took over Berlin, and the flooded and muddy court held the score to a minimum.

 

All the games were played in the open on the Reichssportfeld tennis courts. The jump ball at the beginning of the first game between Estonia and France was administered by the father of basketball, the Canadian Dr. James Naismith. The United States, having played basketball for so long, had a head start on all their opponents, yet dominated the scores only narrowly: 25-10 against Mexico in the semifinal and 19-8 against Canada in the final. The American team, made up of fourteen players, was the one who most often strove to keep control of the ball using sophisticated combinations which surprised the European observers.

 

FINAL STANDING

1.

USA

2.

Canada

3.

Mexico

4.

Poland

5.

Philippines

6.

Uruguay

7.

Italy

8.

Peru

9.

Brazil

10.

Chile

11.

Czechoslovakia

12.

Estonia

13.

Japan

14.

Switzerland

15.

China

16.

Egypt

17.

Germany

18.

Latvia

19.

Belgium

20.

France

21.

Turkey

22.

Spain (withdrawal)

23.

Hungary (withdrawal)

 

 

XIV GAMES OF THE OLYMPIAD (LONDON 1948)

 

In the first Olympic Games after World War II, 23 teams were present in London for the basketball tournament. Although in 1936, when in was first introduced as olympic sport, basketball was only a minority discipline which didn’t draw much attention (it was played outdoors in a tennis court), by 1948 it had gained popularity in the world and it was taken more seriously by the International Olympic Committee: they devoted a single arena (Harringay) for basketball—even moving the wrestling to another venue—to allow a full two-week competition, a wooden flooring was laid to meet the requirements of FIBA, and the first attempts were made to assign individual numbers to the players (in a different way to other team sports, where only the positions are numbered, and the football player appearing at right-back, for instance, wore No. 2, whoever he may be).

 

Perhaps the most astonishing fact about the basketball tournament was the extremely close competition. For instance, Korea, who finished eighth, was beaten in the preliminary round by China, who eventually was eighteenth in the table. The figures speak for themselves: in Preliminary Round Group B, five of the six teams were tied on points; out of 88 games, five required extra-time, four were won by one point, eleven won by two points and twelve won by three to six points.

 

Once again—and it would not be the last time—the players from the United States of America were—literally—head and shoulders above their opponents: their average height, combined with an unusual agility and ball control in players of this size (epitomized by their giant Bob Kurland, 2.14 m), accounted for their domination of the tournament, although the high standard of play made US coach Bud Browning express the view that, by 1952, his country would have to improve still further to hold the olympic title.

 

Though the USA won the championship, that they played the best basketball to watch may be in doubt, for some of the most scintillating ball play was that of the far eastern teams, Korea, Philippines and China. These three teams were a joy to watch. Though small of stature, their speed and ball control earned them the admiration and respect of basketball fans in London.

 

France, who finished second, was a steady team, and although not brilliant, their rock-like defense and methodical offensive earned their players this high position. Their greatest achievement was to reach the final after having beaten Chile by the skin of their teeth following extra-time in the quarterfinals (53-52). But, in the final, the fighting French cockerels failed to show their spurs and were taught a hard lesson by the Americans, who beat them 65-21.

 

FINAL STANDING

1.

USA

2.

France

3.

Brazil

4.

Mexico

5.

Uruguay

6.

Chile

7.

Czechoslovakia

8.

Korea

9.

Canada

10.

Peru

11.

Belgium

12.

Philippines

13.

Cuba

14.

Iran

15.

Argentina

16.

Hungary

17.

Italy

18.

China

19.

Egypt

20.

Great Britain

21.

Switzerland

22.

Iraq

23.

Eire

 

 

XV GAMES OF THE OLYMPIAD (HELSINKI 1952)

 

Due to the large number of participants (23), and to comply with a regular competition system, the basketball tournament proper was preceded by a Qualification Round for the unseeded nations in order to limit the participating teams to 16. The preliminary round was made by four groups of four teams each, in such a way that in each group there were two seeded teams: the best two in London 1948 (USA, France), the World champion (Argentina) and the European champion (Soviet Union) were put into different groups; the second-seeded teams, nations placed 3-6 in London (Brazil, Mexico, Uruguay, Chile), were allocated to these four groups by lot; the remaining eight teams were lotted without further selection. The best two in each of these preliminary round groups went on to the semifinal round in two groups of four. The best two in each semifinal group went on to the final round for placings 1-4, leaving the two weakest in each group to compete for placings 5-8.

 

Helsinki 1952 was the first appearance of the USSR at the Olympic Games, in a tournament which failed to reach new heights. The matches were played in two different arenas: the qualifying and preliminary rounds in the Tennis Palace (in the heart of Helsinki), and the semifinal and final rounds in Messuhalli II (adjacent to the Olympic Stadium).

 

For the first time in an olympic tournament, the 100-point barrier was broken by the USA against Chile (103-55). However, in the final against the USSR they distinguished themselves with a miserable score (36-25) at the end of an indigestible game both for the players and the spectators, with the two teams practically freezing the ball out of fear of losing it. Apparently resigned to certain defeat, the Soviet Union resorted to slowing-down tactics, hanging on to the ball, and the USA, who had started out in earnest, went on to play the same kind of game once they achieved the desired narrow margin. These soporific tactics led the FIBA legislators to review the regulations and introduce the 10-second back-court rule and the 30-second shot clock. Another major novelty introduced in Helsinki 1952 was the standardization of team numbering: the fourteen members of each national squad were individually numbered from 3 to 16 (the basketball rules forbad the use of numbers 1-2).

 

An incident occurred at the end of the semifinal round game between France and Uruguay (68-66), which the South-Americans finished with only three players due to foul trouble. Two Uruguayans were suspended from the rest of the tournament and all future olympic competitions for attacking the North American referee Vincent Farrell, who had to be carried to a dressing-room after a regrettable scene. However, Uruguay still managed to win the bronze medal against arch-rival Argentina (68-59).

 

The USA again won the gold medal, and one of their players, Bob Kurland, collected his second. The American team included men so tall that their height was definitely an asset, but their best qualities were technical skill and effective team-work. By contrast, the Soviet Union compensated for their lack of speed and temperament with their classical weapons: coolness and utmost accuracy.

 

FINAL STANDING

1.

USA

2.

Soviet Union

3.

Uruguay

4.

Argentina

5.

Chile

6.

Brazil

7.

Bulgaria

8.

France

9.

Mexico

10.

Czechoslovakia

11.

Philippines

12.

Egypt

13.

Canada

14.

Cuba

15.

Finland

16.

Hungary

17.

Italy

18.

Belgium

19.

Greece

20.

Israel

21.

Switzerland

22.

Turkey

23.

Romania

 

 

XVI GAMES OF THE OLYMPIAD (MELBOURNE 1956)

 

In contrast with the large number of teams registered in previous editions of the olympic basketball tournament, only 15 competitors were present in Melbourne, which can be blamed mostly on the massive withdrawals of teams who refused to make the long journey to Australia, the late olympic calendar (end of November, when most basketball championships were in mid-season), and the political discrepancies between Communist and non-Communist countries after the Soviet invasion of Hungary just three weeks before the Games.

 

Before the tournament, the Organizing Committee was faced with a problem in providing a suitable site for the basketball competition, Melbourne being a city in which very few stadia were available for the conduct of indoor sports. Eventually, an annex to the Exhibition Building was constructed for the purpose, but its facilities were much overtaxed for the tournament (especially at night sessions), as basketball was gaining popularity in the world.

 

Since only 15 countries entered the competition, it was not necessary to play eliminating matches before the tournament proper (as in the  previous edition). In the Preliminary Round, the entrants were divided into three groups of four teams and one group of three. The best two teams from every group went on to the Classification Round for places 1-8 in two groups of four teams. Once again, the winners and runners-up from each of these groups went on to play for placings 1-4 in the Final Round.

 

Melbourne 1956 provided another opportunity to witness the different basketball styles used by teams from different continents: Uruguay again provided some closely-fought matches (especially their excellent 70-65 victory against Bulgaria in the Preliminary Round) and a series of incidents, but nevertheless managed to finish in the third place; the fast, neat and clever ball-handling of the far Eastern teams was at all times a delight to watch; the systematic effectiveness of the tall, fast and agile USA team consistently evoked admiration.

 

The United States cruised to yet another gold medal after easily winning all their matches by an average difference of 53 points. In their first meeting of the competition against arch-rivals Soviet Union, the general impression was that neither side exerted themselves to the full extent of their capabilities, but the American superiority was overtly manifest (85-55). In the final, the USSR subjected once again to the law of the Americans in an unexciting match (89-55). The very tall Soviet players were too slow to counter the equally tall but faster and much more agile US men. Just how good the American team was could not be gauged on results alone, as its members were never really under pressure or fully extended in any match.

 

FINAL STANDING

1.

USA

2.

Soviet Union

3.

Uruguay

4.

France

5.

Bulgaria

6.

Brazil

7.

Philippines

8.

Chile

9.

Canada

10.

Japan

11.

Formosa

12.

Australia

13.

Singapore

14.

Korea

15.

Thailand

 

 

XVII GAMES OF THE OLYMPIAD (ROME 1960)

 

As the number of teams who wanted to participate in the Games increased, 18 teams were required to play a Pre-Olympic Tournament in Bologna a week before the Olympic Tournament proper. Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Spain, Hungary and Poland earned a place in the final pool, where they joined the 11 countries which had automatically qualified.

 

Unsurprisingly, the US basketball team took its fifth consecutive gold medal, thanks to the greatest amateur players ever assembled to represent the United States, including names such as Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Jerry Lucas, Walt Bellamy and Terry Dischinger (four of whom would become NBA Rookies of the Year from 1961 to 1964). The Americans made short work of Japan (125-66), Hungary (107-63), Yugoslavia (104-42), Uruguay (108-50) and even hosts Italy (112-81) before winning the decisive league stage match against Brazil (90-63).

 

FINAL STANDING

1.

USA

2.

Soviet Union

3.

Brazil

4.

Italy

5.

Czechoslovakia

6.

Yugoslavia

7.

Poland

8.

Uruguay

9.

Hungary

10.

France

11.

Philippines

12.

Mexico

13.

Puerto Rico

14.

Spain

15.

Japan

16.

Bulgaria

 

 

XVIII GAMES OF THE OLYMPIAD (TOKYO 1964)

 

Once again, the qualification system for the Olympic Tournament was amended by the World Congress in 1960: the host nation, together with the first eight teams from the previous Games in Rome, the winner and runner-up of the Pan-American Games, and the winner of the African Championship, were automatically qualified for the final stage. The remaining six berths would be allocated after a Pre-Olympic Tournament gathering twenty-four teams. However, the withdrawals of Czechoslovakia (fifth qualified in Rome) and United Arab Republic of Egypt (African champion) resulted in two more qualification berths assigned to the Pre-Olympic stage.

 

These Olympic Games were again dominated by the players from the United States of America. They carried off nine huge victories, even in the fnal, which was more or less played in one direction against the USSR (73-59). But if elements such as Bill Bradley, Jim Barnes, Walt Hazzard, Jeff Mullins and Mel Counts were particularly in evidence in the American camp during this tournament, three Europeans, the Soviet Gennadij Vol’nov, the Pole Janusz Wichowski and the Finn Martti Liimo, also figured in the “All Stars” table together with the Peruvian Ricardo Duarte and the Mexican Alberto Almanza.

 

FINAL STANDING

1.

USA

2.

Soviet Union

3.

Brazil

4.

Puerto Rico

5.

Italy

6.

Poland

7.

Yugoslavia

8.

Uruguay

9.

Australia

10.

Japan

11.

Finland

12.

Mexico

13.

Hungary

14.

Canada

15.

Peru

16.

South Korea

 

 

XIX GAMES OF THE OLYMPIAD (MEXICO CITY 1968)

 

As in the previous edition, the host nation, together with the top qualified teams in Tokyo 1964 and the best teams of America, Asia and Africa, earned automatic qualification for the Olympic Tournament. The remaining berths were allocated after two Pre-Olympic Tournaments for Europe and the rest of the world.

 

Although the Games of Mexico 68 were politically charged, this didn’t seem to affect to the basketball competition, and the USA and USSR (escorted by some of the finest teams in the world, like Yugoslavia, Italy and Brazil) renewed their rivalry in the magnificent Sport Palace of Mexico City, with a capacity of 22,500 spectators.

 

For the seventh time in a row, the USA made off with the gold medal. But the greatest surprise of the tournament was provided by Yugoslavia, who knocked the Soviet Union out of the final by only one point (63-62). The Yugoslavs, with the excellent Ivo Daneu (supported by Dragutin Čermak and Petar Skansi), put up a good fight against an American team who took advantage of the skill of their duo Spencer Haywood (21 pts.) and Jo Jo White (14 pts.) to make the difference.

 

FINAL STANDING

1.

USA

2.

Yugoslavia

3.

Soviet Union

4.

Brazil

5.

Mexico

6.

Poland

7.

Spain

8.

Italy

9.

Puerto Rico

10.

Bulgaria

11.

Cuba

12.

Panama

13.

Philippines

14.

South Korea

15.

Senegal

16.

Morocco

 

 

XX GAMES OF THE OLYMPIAD (MUNICH 1972)

 

For the first time in the history of the Olympic Basketball Tournament, the United States failed to win the gold medal after the most controversial final ever played. Everything seemed to go according to the usual script until the decisive game, with the Americans winning all their previous eights games to complete an incredible streak of 59 consecutive wins in olympic history. Even though the US team was not, on this occasion, the most representative and was suffering from an obvious lack of preparation, everyone thought that the qualify of the players and the weight of history would be enough to win yet another gold medal… but it was not to be.

 

Things went wrong for the Americans from the beginning of the final, as the Soviets took an early lead and the US players seemed to be paralyzed by what was at stake. The USSR led by five points at halftime (26-21), and the difference grew to ten with under ten minutes to play. A furious American comeback shrunk the Soviet lead to one point with 38 seconds remaining, and then pandemonium broke. Three seconds before the end, following two consecutive errors from the scorer’s table, the game was interrupted. As a result of a misunderstanding, the Americans started celebrating their victory. Amid total confusion, the game was restarted with just three seconds on the clock. A long throw by the Soviet player Ivan Edeshko fell to the hands of Aleksandr Belov, who scored a lay-up and gave victory to the Soviet Union (51–50). The US players were so disappointed after this outcome that they refused to attend the victory ceremony to receive the silver medal. In the consolation final, Cuba completed the podium after snatching the bronze away from the Italians by just one point (66-65).

 

FINAL STANDING

1.

Soviet Union

2.

USA

3.

Cuba

4.

Italy

5.

Yugoslavia

6.

Puerto Rico

7.

Brazil

8.

Czechoslovakia

9.

Australia

10.

Poland

11.

Spain

12.

FRG

13.

Philippines

14.

Japan

15.

Senegal

16.

Egypt

 

 

XXI GAMES OF THE OLYMPIAD (MONTREAL 1976)

 

Owing to the arrival of women’s basketball at the Olympic Games, the tournament from this point on was limited to twelve teams divided into two groups in the Preliminary Round. The USSR and USA completed their groups without a single defeat, but the Americans had a harder time of it than the Soviets, particularly in the games against Puerto Rico (95-94) and Czechoslovakia (81-76).

 

There was a surprise in the semifinals, where Yugoslavia repeated their success from Mexico beating the USSR (89-84), while the USA experienced less difficulty in beating hosts Canada (95-77). The Balkans, after twice winning the European Championship in 1973 and 1975, confirmed that an amazing new generation of basketball players had come into their own under the guidance of coach Mirko Novosel. In the final, the skill of Dražen Dalipagić (27 pts.), Dragan Kićanović (18) and Krešimir Ćosić (15) was not enough to counteract the brilliance of Adrian Dantley (30 pts.), Mitch Kupchak (14) or Scott May (14). But, at the end of the day, the tournament’s top scorer was the Australian Eddie Palubinskas, with an average of 31.3 points per game.

 

FINAL STANDING

1.

USA

2.

Yugoslavia

3.

Soviet Union

4.

Canada

5.

Italy

6.

Czechoslovakia

7.

Cuba

8.

Australia

9.

Puerto Rico

10.

Mexico

11.

Japan

12.

Egypt

 

 

XXII GAMES OF THE OLYMPIAD (MOSCOW 1980)

 

Following the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in December 1979, the American president, Jimmy Carter, declared an official boycott to the Olympic Games in April 1980, which was immediately joined by a series of countries from the Western World with political and economical bounds with the United States. This was a hard blow for the basketball tournament, and the Secretary General emeritus of FIBA, Renato William Jones, suffered a stroke which, several months later, would prove to be fatal. The American boycott led to a major re-design of the participants in Moscow, with some qualified teams withdrawing and others being invited to replace them, which resulted in some unusual participants, like India and Sweden.

 

In the absence of the United States, the Soviet Union, a powerhouse in the late seventies and early eighties, were favored to win at home, but lost their gold medal chances after two defeats in the Classification Round against Italy (87-85) and Yugoslavia (101-91), teams which would play the final. In the decisive match against the Yugoslavs, after a fast-paced back-and-forth game, the Soviets thought they had won on a last-second shot by Sergėjus Jovaiša (with the score 81-81). The officials, however, disallowed the shot and the game was sent into overtime, where the Soviet Union was down a loss. Yugoslavia dominated the final (86-77), with their star trio Dragan Kićanović (22 pts.), Mirza Delibašić (20) and Dražen Dalipagić (18), in spite of Italian Renato Villalta’s technical excellence as the game’s best scorer with 29 points.

 

FINAL STANDING

1.

Yugoslavia

2.

Italy

3.

Soviet Union

4.

Spain

5.

Brazil

6.

Cuba

7.

Poland

8.

Australia

9.

Czechoslovakia

10.

Sweden

11.

Senegal

12.

India

 

 

XXIII GAMES OF THE OLYMPIAD (LOS ANGELES 1984)

 

The United States not having gone to Moscow four years earlier, the Soviets in turn decided to boycott these Games and were emulated by other East Bloc countries. The USA marked its return to the competition by lining up a fine team which included the likes of Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Alvin Robertson and Chris Mullin. This choice selection made short work of Uruguay (104-68), France (120-62) and Spain (101-68). The semifinals brought together two European teams (Spain and Yugoslavia) on the one hand, and two North-American teams (USA and Canada) on the other. The Spanish gave a splendid performance knocking out the Yugoslavs (74-61) and found themselves in the final against the USA, where they had to content themselves with just maintaining a good counterattack (96-65). And it came as no surprise when, at the end of the competition, Michael Jordan was elected MVP for his outstanding performance throughout.

 

FINAL STANDING

1.

USA

2.

Spain

3.

Yugoslavia

4.

Canada

5.

Italy

6.

Uruguay

7.

Australia

8.

FRG

9.

Brazil

10.

China

11.

France

12.

Egypt

 

 

XXIV GAMES OF THE OLYMPIAD (SEOUL 1988)

 

For the second time in the history of the Olympic Tournament (disregarding 1980, when they didn’t participate), the United States failed to win the gold medal, and this time they didn’t even make it to the final. A roster that included a host of future NBA all-stars, like David Robinson, Dan Majerle and Mitch Richmond, could only win the bronze medal after losing to the Soviet Union (82-76) in the semifinal, in the first olympic meeting between these two countries since the controversial 1972 final. American specialists primarily made coach John Thompson responsible for this setback for not having given his individual players enough room to breathe in a collective game which suffered from the lack of a leader and three-point scorers. The defeat was hard to digest in the US, and as a result Seoul 1988 would be the last time college players would represent the United States in olympic basketball competition. Following a vote by the International Amateur Basketball Federation to allow NBA players to participate in the Games, the first “Dream Team” was formed in the 1992 edition.

 

In the final, the Soviet Union confirmed their solidity by triumphing over Yugoslavia (76-63) who, despite 24 points from Dražen Petrović, were unable to resist the strength of an opponent with players of the calibre of Arvydas Sabonis, Šarūnas Marčiulionis and Rimas Kurtinaitis. Another great individual from the tournament was the skilled Brazilian Oscar Schmidt, with the exceptional average of 42.3 points per game.

 

FINAL STANDING

1.

Soviet Union

2.

Yugoslavia

3.

USA

4.

Australia

5.

Brazil

6.

Canada

7.

Puerto Rico

8.

Spain

9.

South Korea

10.

Central African Republic

11.

China

12.

Egypt

 

 

XXV GAMES OF THE OLYMPIAD (BARCELONA 1992)

 

The basketball tournament in Barcelona 1992 was marked by the first ever—and for many the only genuine one—“Dream Team.” After their failure in Seoul 1988, the United States had learned their lesson, and knew that from now on they would be needing their top weapons to compete with the experienced European players (some of them were already playing in the NBA). Taking advantage of the NBA and FIBA coming closer together after the success of the McDonald’s Open, and also the connivance of an IOC which no longer banned professional players, the US team was represented in Spain by the best of the best, namely the superstars from their professional league: the likes of Michael Jordan, “Magic” Johnson, Larry Bird, Scottie Pippen, Charles Barkley or Patrick Ewing (to name a few) definitely ensured that the golden medal would be flying to the States at the end of the tournament. Chuck Daly (ex-Detroit Pistons) was chosen to coach the “Dream Team,” as he was considered the ideal person to create a compact group out of such diametrically opposing personalities and talents. The question before the Games was not whether the “Dream Team” would win the gold, but by how many points.

 

As for the rest of participants, the geopolitical changes had altered the usual map. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) had replaced them, but their team was weakened by the absence of some of the Baltic countries’ top players (especially the Lithuanian NBA stars Arvydas Sabonis and Šarūnas Marčiulionis). The other European power, Yugoslavia, also broke up in different nations, and in their case they couldn’t even compete in Barcelona due to UN sanctions. Croatia, mostly the remains of the Yugoslavian team which had won the silver medal in Seoul, took their place as dominating force in the Balkans.

 

Unsurprisingly, the United States won the gold, beating Croatia 117-85 in the final. They dominated the competition and won eight matches by an average of 44 points. Not even the best European teams, like Croatia or Lithuania (bronze medallists), could compete with the “Dream Team”. After a relatively tight first half (56-42), the NBA stars changed the gear after halftime with a partial score of 33-14, which was enough to clinch the victory.

 

This was a tournament of a particularly high standard since, USA aside, other players from the NBA were also on the court in Badalona (which was the sub-venue for the basketball competition): Dražen Petrović and Stojan Vranković (for Croatia), Šarūnas Marčiulionis (Lithuania), Aleksandr Volkov (CIS), Luc Longley (Australia), Detlef Schrempf (Germany), “Piculín” Ortiz and Ramón Rivas (Puerto Rico). It was only the last four teams in the classification (Spain, Angola, Venezuela and China) who did not have any players from the NBA.

 

In the long run, the presence of the “Dream Team” in Barcelona helped the rest of the world more than the US. The sport was always popular in places like Lithuania and Yugoslavia, but now people in South America and Asia were becoming increasingly attracted to the sport as they were exposed to the stars from the NBA. Prior to 1992, only two foreign-born and schooled players (Vlade Divac and Arvydas Sabonis) had ever been drafted in the NBA’s first round. Since that time, the number of foreign players joining the American professional league has grown exponentially.

 

FINAL STANDING

1.

USA

2.

Croatia

3.

Lithuania

4.

CIS

5.

Brazil

6.

Australia

7.

Germany

8.

Puerto Rico

9.

Spain

10.

Angola

11.

Venezuela

12.

China

 

 

XXVI GAMES OF THE OLYMPIAD (ATLANTA 1996)

 

Coasting on the reputation of the 1992 “Dream Team,” there was little doubt that, playing on home territory, the United States would not be letting the visitors leave with a gold medal. There was a new “Dream Team” which, although possibly less spectacular than the one in Barcelona, lacked neither style nor centimetres, with five players over two metres—among them David Robinson (2.16 m) and Hakeem Olajuwon (2.13 m)—, and which had the experience of Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Scottie Pippen and Shaquille O’Neal.

 

As predicted, the USA made a meal of their opponents on their way to the final against Yugoslavia. An olympic-high basketball crowd of 34,600 gathered at the Georgia Dome to watch the US capture the gold medal with a clear 95-69 win, although the Yugoslavs only gave up in the end. Riding the momentum of a 7-0 winning streak and a 16-game international competition streak, a physical Yugoslavia team managed to hold a tied score at the end of the first half, and even cut the United States’s lead to 51-50 in the second half. But then US center David Robinson scored 10 of his game-high 28 points in a 19-4 run that put the game away, and Yugoslavia were pulverized by the end of forty minutes. In the third-place game, Lithuania grabbed their second straight bronze medal with a 80-74 win over Australia.

 

In the individual aspect, Brazil’s five-time Olympian, 38-year-old Oscar Schmidt, became the first player in olympic history to score an accumulated 1,000 points.

 

FINAL STANDING

1.

USA

2.

Yugoslavia

3.

Lithuania

4.

Australia

5.

Greece

6.

Brazil

7.

Croatia

8.

China

9.

Argentina

10.

Puerto Rico

11.

Angola

12.

South Korea

 

 

XXVII GAMES OF THE OLYMPIAD (SYDNEY 2000)

 

The United States encountered little resistance in Atlanta in 1996, with the remnants of their arch-rivals Soviet Union and Yugoslavia in disarray, but by Sydney in 2000 most of the NBA legends had retired and the American team could no longer coast on their reputation. With a slightly less representative squad than on previous occasions, this time no one dared to call them “Dream Team.” In fact, the US very nearly lost their place in the Final when, in the semifinals, they found themselves one point down against the Lithuanians with just 43 seconds to go to the end of the game. It took a tip in from Antonio McDyess and a free throw from Jason Kidd to save the day (85-83).

 

One of the major surprises of this tournament was France qualifying for the final, something which the French had not managed to do since the Olympic Games in London in 1948. However, they had got off to a somewhat difficult and chaotic start in the tournament, being defeated by Lithuania, Italy and the United States in the Preliminary Round. Fortunately for them, France pulled themselves together in the quarterfinals against Canada (68-63) and in the semifinals against Australia (76-52). In the final, a miracle was practically in the making: in the closing minutes of the game, the French were just four points behind their opponents before finally having to admit defeat (85-75).

 

So the United States did win the gold again, but the gap with their rivals was much closer than before (two games against Lithuania, who went on to win their third straight bronze medal, were decided by nine and two points, respectively), and people started to wonder how long it would be before the Americans lost a game in the Olympic Tournament.

 

FINAL STANDING

1.

USA

2.

France

3.

Lithuania

4.

Australia

5.

Italy

6.

Yugoslavia

7.

Canada

8.

Russia

9.

Spain

10.

China

11.

New Zealand

12.

Angola

 

 

XXVIII GAMES OF THE OLYMPIAD (ATHENS 2004)

 

Athens 2004 will go down as perhaps the most exciting Olympic Tournament ever held, and certainly the least predictable. The curtain came down with Argentina triumphing in just their fourth olympic appearance in the competition. Besides, for the first time in olympic history, there were multiple gold medal candidates in Athens: USA rallied to stop another hopeful, previously undefeated Spain, in the quarterfinals. Lithuania made it through the quarterfinals undefeated in six games, but ran hard into Italy, another would-be winner, in the semis. Host Greece, the victim of Argentina in the quarters, matched their best Olympics finish, fifth. Puerto Rico, who ended sixth, lit the fuse on a spectacular show by doling USA their first loss by 19 points in their opening game. And China rallied into the quarterfinals with a last minute win over Serbia-Montenegro.

 

It was an Olympic Tournament where, against current trends, offense played a big part in making this competition such a spectacle. Teams went over the 100-point mark four times and exceeded the 90-point mark fifteen times. The highest-scoring team was Lithuania, with an average of 93.8 points per game.

 

Argentina won the gold medal featuring the most accurate player in field shots, Manu Ginóbili (70.8%). Despite the outstanding performance of some of their players, the South Americans and Italy were the best example for the triumph of the team effort over individual skill. Italy were not present with their players in the individual top statistics, but had an incredible team spirit, just like a year before during the Eurobasket.

 

The US team winning streak came to an abrupt end after losing in their opening match to Puerto Rico (92-73) but, after finishing fourth in their preliminary group, managed to maintain the American tradition of always bringing a medal home. Athens 2004 was only the third time the gold medal eluded the United States (after Munich 1972 and Seoul 1988), as they failed to qualify for the final for only the second time in their olympic history (Seoul being the other case).

 

Spain was probably the most unlucky team, since Mario Pesquera’s team won six of their seven games and could only finish in the seventh position, but only the loss to the United States in the quarterfinals, after completing a magnificent group stage, was enough to send them so far from medal contention.

 

Yáo Míng, the Chinese 2.25-meter sensation, scored the most points in a single game (39 against New Zealand), but lost the unofficial scoring title to Spain’s captain Pau Gasol (22.4 points per game). Manu Ginóbili was the MVP of the competition, scoring among others perhaps the most heartbreaking basket of the tournament, a fall away jumper at the buzzer that gave Argentina the win in their premiere against Serbia-Montenegro. The latter, world champions in 1998 and 2002, played without stars like Predrag Stojaković, Vlade Divac and Željko Rebrača and ended the tournament in a disappointing 11th position.

 

FINAL STANDING

1.

Argentina

2.

Italy

3.

USA

4.

Lithuania

5.

Greece

6.

Puerto Rico

7.

Spain

8.

China

9.

Australia

10.

New Zealand

11.

Serbia-Montenegro

12.

Angola

 

 

XXIX GAMES OF THE OLYMPIAD (BEIJING 2008)

 

After the disappointment that meant not winning the gold medal in the previous Olympic Tournament, USA Basketball realized that a mere selection of professional players at the end of the NBA season was not enough to guarantee success. This time, they started preparations for the Beijing Games well in advance and, in 2006, they appointed Mike Krzyzewski head coach of the US team. “Coach K,” who had earned a great reputation at Duke University, committed himself to a three-year program to instill his team concept in the “Redeem Team” (as it was called by the American media).

 

So, for the 2008 Olympic Games, the USA had the time (three years of careful planification), the talent (some of the best NBA players like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwight Howard or Dwyane Wade) and the motivation (the previous disappointments in the 2004 Games and also the 2006 World Championship) to regain the gold medal. Although they were the clear favorites for the final victory in Beijing, they were expected to find a strong opposition in some other teams, especially Spain, who had gathered the best generation of basketball players in its history and was the current world champion. The likes of Rudy Fernández, Ricky Rubio, Juan Carlos Navarro, José Manuel Calderón and the Gasol brothers (Pau and Marc), at the peak of their careers, were unanimously seen as the most serious threat to the American dominance in olympic basketball.

 

Unsurprisingly, USA and Spain reached the final after an uneventful tournament… and what a game it was! Without a doubt, it was the best olympic final ever and one of the greatest games in the history of the competition. The US had to stretch themselves to the limit to defeat a Spanish team who reached a new top and was a serious contender for the gold medal until the last second. The final score (118-107) doesn’t tell the story of a game with permissive defenses, but rather high-quality attacks.

 

Although the olympic basketball tournament is an international competition in which FIBA rules apply, several teams (especially Spain in the final) complained bitterly that the referees showed an excessive permissiveness with the American players, especially in two aspects of the game well typified in FIBA regulations: aggressive body-check and travelling before the first bounce (which go unpunished in the NBA but not in international competitions). In the last seconds of the final, when the US had already secured victory, the Spanish guard Juan Carlos Navarro ironically committed a very clear travelling foul in front of the referees, who ignored this FIBA violation (as they had done during all the game with the American players).

 

FINAL STANDING

1.

USA

2.

Spain

3.

Argentina

4.

Lithuania

5.

Greece

6.

Croatia

7.

Australia

8.

China

9.

Russia

10.

Germany

11.

Iran

12.

Angola

 

 

XXX GAMES OF THE OLYMPIAD (LONDON 2012)

 

In a “classic” of international basketball in recent years, USA and Spain met again in the final of the olympic basketball tournament, and once again the outcome was the same: victory of the American team after a hardly-fought game. Whereas the road for the US team into the final was paved with roses, thanks to their physical and offensive superiority (averaging 116,7 points in the preliminary games, with a 156-73 victory against Nigeria that set a new scoring record in olympic history), the road for Spain was full of thorns, even finishing third in their group (with some voices even claiming that their last defeat against Brazil was intentional in order to avoid the USA until the final).

 

Leaving the US team aside—whose presence in the olympic final nobody even doubted—there was uncertainty as to the team who would challenge the Americans for the gold medal. Although Spain, a rising force in international basketball in recent years, was still favored ahead of other teams like Argentina, Russia or France, Sergio Scariolo’s side was handicapped by the poor form of some key players (especially guard Juan Carlos Navarro, who was recovering from a sustained injury) and the absence of point guard Ricky Rubio (also injured). After an irregular group stage, Spain showed all their experience and quality in the elimination rounds, when they overcame the serious opposition of France (who tried to outmuscle Spain with a very physical basketball) and Russia (who outplayed Spain in the first half of the semifinal, only to succumb in the second half after a brilliant comeback by the Spaniards).

 

FINAL STANDING

1.

USA

2.

Spain

3.

Russia

4.

Argentina

5.

Brazil

6.

France

7.

Australia

8.

Lithuania

9.

Great Britain

10.

Nigeria

11.

Tunisia

12.

China

 

 

XXXI GAMES OF THE OLYMPIAD (RIO DE JANEIRO 2016)

 

COMING SOON...

 

FINAL STANDING

1.

USA

2.

Serbia

3.

Spain

4.

Australia

5.

France

6.

Argentina

7.

Croatia

8.

Lithuania

9.

Brazil

10.

Nigeria

11.

Venezuela

12.

China

 

 

 

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