Basketball was first introduced as an Olympic sport in 1936 and now every 4 years, the world’s best basketball players step onto the international stage in front of thousands of fans to compete for that all important once-in-a-lifetime Olympic gold medal.
Throughout the years, Olympic basketball has delivered some of the most unbelievable scenes and stories. From brilliant buzzer-beaters, dramatic victories and unforgettable fairy tale runs, the Olympic hardwood has seen it all. So, before we enter the knockout rounds of Tokyo 2020, here’s a look at 5 of the most iconic basketball moments in Olympic Basketball: 5 Great, Historic Moments You Must See!
1. Cold War Rivals Engulfed in Chaos and Controversy (Munich, 1972)
Amid the circulating cold war tensions, the gold medal encounter between the USSR and the USA was always destined for controversy. Future NBA All-Star Doug Collins would sink 2 free throws just as a game horn sounded leaving the US 50-49 with 3 seconds left to play.
The Soviets claimed that they had called a timeout before the second free throw and that the game wasn’t stopped by the official (explaining the horn during the shot). As a result, 3 seconds were put back on the clock, but the USSR failed to score, leaving the USA to celebrate their gold medal…or not.
After a second review it was found that the referee prematurely started the inbound play before the clock had reset, leading to another replay. However, this time the Soviets took full advantage with Alexander Belov laying up the ball for the win after a launched pass by Ivan Edeshko and the USSR won 51-50. The final horn sparked protest and outrage by the Americans and to this day they have never accepted their silver medals.
2. The “Dream Team” (Barcelona, 1992)
In 1992, professional basketball players from the NBA were allowed to play for the first time in Olympic history. What followed was something that is still marvelled to this very day, and just like Marvel, team USA assembled their Avengers, otherwise known as the “dream team”.
The USA men’s team consisted of future hall of famers such as Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. It is arguably the most talented sports team assembled of all time and in spectacular fashion they cruised to gold, beating times by 43.8 points on average per game.
In the final they crushed Croatia by 32 points (the closest anyone ever got to beating them by the way). They were so good that even the opposition asked for their autographs during games. The talent and star power of the dream team captivated millions and was the driving force for the globalisation of elite level basketball.
3. Vince Carter’s Dunk of Dreams (Sydney, 2000)
In the months prior to the Olympics held in Sydney (2000), the former rookie of the year, Vince Carter stunned audiences at the NBA All-Star Weekend dunk competition in such a way that it’s still spoken about over 20 years later.
He would then carry this form on to the Olympics where he performed one of the most spectacular feats of athleticism seen in the history of the game.
After stealing the ball in a preliminary-round game against France, the 6’6” Carter squared up to the 7’2” French man mountain Frederic Weis. Carter had nothing but eyes for the basket and like a man possessed he leapt over the Frenchman to deliver a monstrous one-handed dunk leaving Weis ‘posterized’.
The iconic moment was dubbed by the French as “le dunk de la mort” (the dunk of death) and is something basketball fans around the world replay over and over again (unless you are Weis that is).
4. Argentina’s Golden Boys (Athens, 2004)
After the inclusion of NBA players in 1992, the USA had a vice grip on men’s basketball at the Olympics, however that all changed in 2004.
This was the pinnacle of Argentina’s golden generation after shocking many and claiming silver at the 2002 FIBA world cup (beating team USA in the process).
The team’s journey started in dramatic fashion beating Serbia and Montenegro by 1 point with a buzzer-beater. They subsequently scraped it through to the knock-out phase of the competition where they once again shocked the world in semi-final clash against the USA.
Against all odds the Argentinian team led by Manu Ginobili, Andres Nocioni, and Luis Scola defeated the seemingly unbeatable team of future hall of famers such as Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson as well as LeBron James.
After that, the Argentinians finished the job against Italy in the final, securing gold for the first time in their history. If 1992 was the year that kickstarted the globalization of basketball, 2004 was the year it came to fruition.
5. The “Redeem Team” (Beijing, 2008)
Following the shame and embarrassment of 2004, the USA men’s team had one objective in 2008…to win at all costs. The team aimed to reclaim what was once theirs and restore pride and honour for basketball in the USA.
The team was led by the late and great Kobe Bryant as well as other American All-Stars such as LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.
After making it to the final they faced an intense encounter with a very good Spain side who had their very own golden generation.
The game was very competitive with neither team buckling to the other…until the fourth quarter. In boxing you’d call it the championship rounds, this is where the best show exactly why they’re the best and in G.O.A.T fashion Kobe Bryant took the game by the scruff of the neck.
With 8:13 to go, there was only a 2-point difference between the teams, but by the end it was 118-107 and the USA were once again, at the pinnacle of world basketball, earning the name the “Redeem Team”.
The basketball in Tokyo this year is definitely something you should look out for. There is a plethora of talent from all over the world, some of whom are dominating the NBA such as the recently crowned MVP Nikola Jokic of Serbia (26), and 2-time All-Star Luka Donic (22) of Slovenia.
The question is can the USA claim gold for a fourth consecutive time? Or will another country repeat the heroics of 2004? Only time will tell, and we’re sure that, like us, you can’t wait to see the madness along with the miracles unfold on the court in Tokyo 2020!
Into volleyball? Then check out Olympic Volleyball: 5 of The Best Players of All Time!