While the sport of basketball was invented in the United States of America in 1891, it did not become an official sport in the Olympics until 1936. And once it did, the Americans dominated the sport in spite of fielding amateur players, as was the rule at the time.
Even though there was competition with their Cold War opponents, the former Soviet Union, the breakup of the Soviet Union saw USA maintain their dominance in the sport in almost all editions.
Olympic basketball has seen its fair share of big wins and massive upsets. We look at five such moments that will be remembered for a long time to come.
1) 1992 – USA’s Dream Team wins Gold
Professional players who earned wages were not allowed to compete at the Olympics until a FIBA rule change in 1989 allowed USA to field their NBA players from the 1992 edition onwards. That decision saw the rise in the popularity of international basketball and raised the bar for international teams as NBA players decimated all before them.
Here’s a look at their squad: Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, (take a break here to gulp!) Scottie Pippen, Clyde Drexler, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Chris Mullin and Christian Laettner (the only player who was still in college and also regarded as one of the greatest NCAA players of all time).
If the starting five did not deflate your confidence as an opponent, then the substitutes did. If one, or even two, players had a bad day at the office, seven others stepped up to remind you that you were just competing for the silver medal. So comprehensive were the blowout wins that USA topped their group with five wins in five games and a massive Points Difference of +229!
“I look to my right, there's Michael Jordan. I look to my left, there's Charles Barkley or Larry Bird. I didn't know who to throw the ball to!” – Magic Johnson
The aura of the team was also not lost on their opponents who were busy asking their teammates on the bench to click photos of them playing Jordan, Bird or Johnson. Croatia were the second best team at the Olympics and even they were defeated 103-70 in the group stage match and 117-85 in the gold medal game.