Only a handful of teams can boast of dominating a sport like the United States dominates men’s basketball in the Olympics. They have also been the most successful nation at the FIBA World Cup with 12 podium finishes – 5 gold, 3 silver, and 4 bronze.
When it comes to basketball at the Olympics, the US takes its dominance to a whole new level. The inaugural men’s basketball tournament at the Olympics took place in Berlin in 1936. In the 19 tournaments since then, the US has bagged the gold medal 15 times.
However, there have been instances when the US team has been outdone by other teams. Have a look at the four Olympics where the US did not win the gold medal in men’s basketball.
Munich Olympics 1972– USSR
The men’s basketball final at Munich Olympics is regarded as one of the most controversial games ever.
The US, led by the likes of Doug Collins and Dwight Jones, locked horns with the USSR team in the final in an attempt to secure an eighth straight gold. It was an iconic Cold War clash. The USSR, on the other hand, boasted a strong roster of players as well, and were unbeaten during the group stages of the tournament.
The final witnessed a seesaw battle between the two teams. The US led the game 50-49 with only one second remaining. It was at this point that controversy struck. With confusion about the time remaining on the clock, the USSR were given multiple chances to inbound the ball. The first inbound – where they failed to score – was deemed invalid as the shot clock had not been reset to three seconds remaining. The USSR were able to score on a subsequent inbound and take the final 51-50.
The US also complained about a timeout that was wrongfully awarded to the Soviets after Collins’ free throws, as well as the incorrect substitution of Ivan Edeshko, the player who inbounded the ball when the winning shot was hit. The US players initially decided to walk off the court and claim victory, but coach Henry Iba persuaded them to gracefully accept defeat.
Moscow Olympics 1980 – Yugoslavia
The Cold War tensions between the US and USSR were at their height when the 1980 Olympics were taking place in Moscow. The US, in protest to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, decided to boycott the games in Moscow.
With the US not participating in the games, Yugoslavia, backed by the scoring prowess of their shooting guard Dragan Kićanović, won 10 games on the trot to clinch the gold medal, beating Italy in the final.
Seoul Olympics 1988 – USSR
In 1988, the Soviet Union became only the second team ever to win more than one Olympic gold medal at men’s basketball.
With star players like Arvydas Sabonis and Rimas Kurtinatis, the USSR went on to win 7 out of their 8 matches in the competition. They also managed to defeat the defending champions, the United States, 82-76 in the semi-final.
In the final, they faced a resilient Yugoslavian side consisting of players like Tony Kukoc, Drazen Petrovic, and Dino Radja – a side that went on to win the 1990 FIBA World Cup. However the Soviets managed to pip them 76-63 in the final and claim the gold medal.
This was the last time a Soviet Union team featured in Olympics basketball.
Athens Olympics 2004 – Argentina
The face of Olympic basketball changed after the 1992 games in Barcelona after FIBA allowed NBA professionals to participate in Olympics. The US tapped into its pool of NBA superstars such as Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and LeBron James. They continued to dominate the competition until their juggernaut was stopped by Argentina.
Argentina were led by NBA player Manu Ginobili, who played for the San Antonio Spurs. They had a less than impressive start to their campaign, with defeats against Spain and Italy. They managed a third-place finish in Group B and qualified for the quarters.
It was in the semifinals where Argentina caught everyone's attention. After defeating Greece in the quarterfinals, the Argentine team managed to get the better of a star-studded American team that featured players like LeBron James, Alan Iverson, Dwyane Wade and Tim Duncan. They beat the US 89-81 and ended their dream of a fourth straight gold in the Olympics.
In the final, led by Ginobili, Argentina comfortably defeated Italy 84-69, a team they had lost to in the group stages.
Argentina remains the only team, other than the US, to win a men’s basketball gold since NBA players have been allowed to participate in the competition.
Can the US win another gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics?
For Tokyo Olympics 2020, the US has again gone for a strong roster with NBA All-Star players like Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard, Khris Middleton and Jayson Tatum. However, other teams are expected to give them a run for their money as they try to secure a fourth consecutive gold.
Spain, who finished runners-up in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, boast a strong squad for the Tokyo Olympics 2020. They have players with experience in the NBA such as Marc Gasol and Willy Hernangomez, as well as performers like Sergio Llull who have done well in the EuroLeague.
In 2016, Serbia was the team that reached the final and threatened to break the American dominance. However, they fell well short in the final, losing 96-66. Led by NBA regular season MVP Nikola Jokic and supported by the likes of Boban and Bogdanovic, Serbia pose a threat to the US this time around as well.
Do you think the US team can win another gold in Tokyo? Let us know in the comments below!