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When did basketball become an Olympic sport? Tracing the history and rising popularity of the game through the ages

Team USA Basketball Training Session
Team USA Basketball Training Session
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Rishabh Bhatnagar

Later today, Team USA will tip-off their 2020 Tokyo Olympics campaign against France. As always, USA boasts a range of top-class NBA talent, with the likes of Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Jayson Tatum leading the charge this time around. Often considered to be a limited-teams sport, basketball in truth has been a part of the Olympics for a long time, with the USA obviously dominating proceedings with respect to medals.

As a matter of fact, only three times in the history of the Olympic games has Team USA not won the gold medal, although they did not participate in the 1980 Olympics. Team USA will now look to add to its medal tally which includes 15 golds, one silver and two bronze medals till date.

Team USA Basketball Training Session
Team USA Basketball Training Session

When did basketball become and Olympic sport? Tracing the history of the game through the ages

The first ever edition of the modern Olympic Games was held in 1896, in Athens, Greece. While the NBA itself was formed in 1949, basketball as a sport was popular in North American countries since the 1850s, with the game introduced in the Olympics for the first time at the Olympic Games St. Louis 1904, as a demonstration sport.

What this meant was that the sport would not have official medals handed out to the winners but was being tested with respect to popularity and the crowds that it pulled. Considering that the term “basketball” did not come up until 1894, the quick addition of the sport to the Olympics is surprising.

Basketball was invented by a Canadian physical education teacher named James Naismith with the term only coming up around 10 years later. Regardless, the sport was officially inducted as a competitive event at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where Team USA began a long-standing monopoly on the gold medal that only ended at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

The now-defunct Soviet Union won the gold medal that year, with USA finishing second and returning with a silver for the first time in its Olympic history. Since then, there have been three mow gold-medal winners apart from Team USA. Yugoslavia won the event at the 1980 Moscow Olympics while Soviet Union returned to the 1988 Seoul Olympics to win gold.

Finally, it was Argentina that was the most recent gold medal winner apart from USA, winning the event at the 2004 Athens Olympics where Team USA registered their worst ever finish at an Olympic basketball event, a bronze medal. Since then, Team USA has won three straight gold medals and have an easy opportunity to make it four in a row. Considering the wealth of talent that they possess, doing so should prove straightforward.


Edited by Arnav Kholkar
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