Forty-five years after Dr. James Naismith invented basketball in Springfield, Massachusetts, the game took its first step toward becoming one of the world's most popular sports as basketball became an official medal sport at the '36 Olympics. Played outdoors on a clay and sand court, the USA men earned a 5-0 record and the gold medal. Only seven of the 14 players were allowed to suit up each game and Joe Fortenberry (14.5 ppg.), Frank Lubin (11.0 ppg.) and Francis Johnson (10.0 ppg.), playing two games apiece, combined for 71 of the USA’s overall 152 points (38.0 ppg.).
In the first post-World War II Olympiad, only two of the eight teams in the quarterfinals were from war-torn Europe. The U.S. men won the USA’s second-straight Olympic basketball gold medal with an 8-0 mark after outscoring opponents by a margin of 33.5 points a game. Alex Groza, who averaged 11.1 points a game, led the USA’s scoring overall and he and Raymond Lumpp, scored 11 points apiece in the USA’s 65-21 gold medal victory over France.
For the first time since 1912, the Soviet Union elected to send athletes to the Olympics. With the U.S. engaged in a bitter cold war struggle against the USSR, an American-Soviet Union match-up was viewed as exciting and politically important. The two sides faced off twice in the tournament, once in the quarterfinal round and the second time for the gold medal. In a highly aggressive and physical battle that saw six Americans and four Soviet players foul out, the U.S. crushed the Soviets 86-58 in the quarterfinal round as Robert Kurland scored 15 points.
Meeting the Soviets in the finals, the USSR, learned from its earlier loss and stuck to a strategy of tight defense and a full-court stall. After 10 minutes the U.S. led 4-3 and 17-15 at the half. The Soviets regained the lead early in the second half, but the U.S. foiled the Soviet Union's upset attempt by shooting well from the outside. After pulling ahead by nine, the U.S. began its own stall causing one distraught Soviet player to stage a temporary sit-down strike at midcourt. Led by nine points from Clyde Lovellette, the Americans eventually went on to win, 36-25.
Behind the play of 6-foot-10 Bill Russell and 6-foot-1 K. C. Jones, two key players on the University of San Francisco's 1956 NCAA national championship team, the USA proved that it was still far ahead of the rest of the world in the American-originated sport. The United States averaged nearly 100 points a game, actually surpassing the century mark in four of eight games, as it earned a fourth-straight gold medal.
Touted as the greatest basketball team in Olympic history, the 1960 U.S. squad was so perfectly balanced that, unlike previous USA Olympic cage teams, no one player emerged as a dominant star. Five USA players finished the Olympic competition averaging in double figures, paced by Oscar Robertson and Jerry Lucas who both averaged 17.0 points a game. Proof of the wealth of talent available to 1960 USA Olympic coach Pete Newell is found in the fact that 10 members of the 1960 12-man roster went on to play professionally in the NBA.
With the Soviets having made great strides over the previous four years, the USSR was considered a co-favorite for the Olympic gold and both the USA and USSR men entered the gold medal clash boasting of 8-0 records. The Soviet Union jumped out to an early lead over the Americans, but the U.S. narrowed the margin to 16-13 at the 10-minute mark and from that point on Hank Iba's troops finally got their running game into gear. The U.S. took control and by half had built a 39-31 advantage, and cruised on to an impressive 73-59 victory. Lucious Jackson led the Americans in the gold medal game with 17 points, Joe Caldwell added 14, and Bill Bradley and Jerry Shipp each accounted for 10 points.
The United States entered the 1968 Olympics in the unfamiliar role of underdogs to the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. This was because of the team's poor showing in a summer European tour that saw the U.S., playing without coach Henry Iba, Jo Jo White and Bill Hosket, win only one of three games each against both the USSR and Yugoslavia. However, the U.S. disproved its skeptics. Relying on the expertise of Iba, the American squad compiled a perfect 9-0 record, and in the process captured the USA's seventh consecutive Olympic basketball gold medal. Spencer Haywood (16.1 ppg.) and White (11.7 ppg.) led the USA’s offense.
In the most controversial game in international basketball history, the U.S. lost its first ever Olympic contest, ended a 63-game Olympic winning streak and a string of seven consecutive Olympic gold medals. Featuring a pair of 8-0 teams, the USA-USSR final was as expected, a hotly contested ball game in which the final three seconds were played three times, with the Soviets in the end being awarded a 51-50 victory. Post-game, the U.S. filed a protest and FIBA officials met to discuss the protest. The U.S. protest was denied and the Soviets were awarded the gold medals. The U.S. team voted unanimously to refuse their silver medals and to this day the medals remain unclaimed.
Seeking to avenge the controversial loss to the Soviets in the 1972 Olympic gold medal game, the USA, coached by University of North Carolina legend Dean Smith, never had the chance to gain revenge, but nevertheless, recorded a perfect 7-0 slate and returned the Olympic basketball gold back home. After collecting a 6-0 mark, including an early 112-93 victory over Yugoslavia, the U.S. faced the Eastern Europeans for the second time. Adrian Dantley scored 18 of his game-high 30 points in the first 20 minutes to help the U.S. open up a 50-38 halftime advantage. Yugoslavia came no closer than 10 points in the second half as the USA reclaimed the Olympic gold with a 95-74 decision. Scott May and Mitch Kupchak each accounted for 14 points in the win.
Although a World Championship in women's basketball had been held every four years since 1953, women's basketball reached a milestone in 1976 with its first Olympic competition. Having finished eighth at the 1975 World Championship, before the U.S. women could set their sights on an Olympic medal, they first had to qualify for the 1976 Olympics. An Olympic Qualifying Tournament featuring nine teams was held, and the U.S. compiled a 5-0 mark to earn its qualifying spot. At the Olympics, however, the USA fell to Japan 84-71 to open the round-robin tournament, then suffered its second loss to the USSR, 112-77. Meeting Czechoslovakia in its final game and in need of a win in order to secure the silver medal, the U.S. broke open the tight contest in the second half to claim an 83-67 win.
In protest of the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan, the United States, along with Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, China and Argentina did not participate in the 1980 Olympic Games that were hosted by the USSR and held in Moscow. Regardless, U.S. Olympic trials were held and selected athletes were honored as 1980 Olympians. The 1980 squad in a series of exhibition games known as the 'Gold Medal Series,' played five games against NBA All-Star teams, and also played the 1976 U.S. Olympic Team. Defeating the 1976 Olympic squad 81-77, the 1980 U.S. Olympians also scored impressive victories over four of the five NBA All-Star teams they played in exhibition games held across the country.
Knowing they would be denied their opportunity to compete for the Olympic gold in Moscow, the USA women elected to go ahead with training and to compete in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament, in which 22 countries would participate for a spot in the 1980 Olympics. The Soviets did not compete in the Tournament because they had already qualified for the '80 Games as the host country and as the defending Olympic champions. The American women posted an impressive 6-1 record to win the tournament and established themselves as an Olympic favorite along with the Soviets.
Basketball, the sport invented 93 years prior in Springfield, Massachusetts, made its first Olympic appearance on its native soil. Coached by Bob Knight, the 1984 U.S. team was filled with future NBA All-Stars, not the least of whom was Michael Jordan, who led the team with 17.1 points a game and, along with Patrick Ewing (11.0 ppg., 5.6 rpg.) and Chris Mullin (11.6 ppg., 3.0 apg.), would go on to win a second gold medal as a member of the 1992 Dream Team.
Just as the 1980 Olympic basketball tournament suffered from the USA’s decision not to participate, the 1984 Olympics saw the Soviet bloc countries decide to abstain. However, by the time the competition ended, the U.S. women had plenty to celebrate as they cruised to their first Olympic gold with a 6-0 slate. Southern California’s Cheryl Miller starred in Los Angeles and led the Americans with 16.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 3.2 steals a game. It also marked the first of an incredible five Olympiads for Teresa Edwards.
The USA, coached by Georgetown's John Thompson, once again entered the 1988 Olympics as the co-favorites to win the gold. However, a semifinal loss to the Soviet Union ended the USA's dreams of gold. Determined not to leave Seoul empty-handed, the USA rebounded to crush Australia 78-49 as Dan Majerle, Mitch Richmond and David Robinson scored 12 points apiece in the win as the U.S. finished with a 7-1 slate.
Just as the USA women's basketball team t-shirts proclaimed, the 1988 USA Olympic squad had one goal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics: 'Sole Goal - Seoul Gold.' Playing in the first of three Olympics, Katrina McClain led the U.S. to gold with a double-double of 17.6 points and 10.4 rebounds a game, while Teresa Edwards (16.6 ppg., 3.4 apg., 4.6 spg.) and Cynthia Cooper (14.2 ppg.) rounded out the double-digit scorers.
From the start they were penciled in as the 1992 Olympic gold medalist team. The media, their opponents, and fans of basketball all agreed that this team, filled with future Hall of Famers, would be unbeatable. And it was. Averaging an Olympic record 117.3 points a game, the USA squad won by an average of 43.8 points and the closest any opponent could come was 32 points (117-85 versus Croatia in the gold medal game). “You will see a team of professionals in the Olympics again,” said USA coach Chuck Daly. “But I don't think you'll see another team quite like this. This was a majestic team.”
Journeying to Barcelona, Spain, with high hopes of earning the United States' third straight Olympic gold medal, despite an impressive showing the U.S. women fell short of their goal but still managed to capture the bronze medal while posting a 4-1 record.
Just as its predecessor, the 1992 U.S. Olympic Team did, the 1996 team proved itself as the best en route to compiling a perfect 8-0 record and capturing the gold at the Atlanta Summer Olympic Games. Coached by Lenny Wilkens, and relying on another collection of NBA superstars, the '96 Olympians continued the 'Dream Team' legacy with class and distinction. Featuring a balance of respected veteran all-stars and some of the game's brightest young players, record crowds watched the U.S. capture the gold. David Robinson, who scored a USA-high of 96 points (12.0 ppg.) became the USA’s first three-time men’s basketball Olympian in history. Also earning their second Olympic gold medals were 1992 Dream Team members Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Scottie Pippen and John Stockton.
After 10 months of preparation that included 52 games in seven countries and over 100,000 miles of travel, the 1996 U.S. squad dominated its competition to reclaim the Olympic gold medal at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. That team, which featured an all-star roster and helped launch two pro leagues, forever changed the landscape of women’s basketball in this country. More popular than any previous women's basketball team, the USA drew a record 202,556 fans during the Olympics for an average of 25,320 a game. Eventual four-time Olympic gold medalist Lisa Leslie averaged 19.5 points a game to lead the U.S., which saw Katrina McClain (14.1 ppg.), Sheryl Swoopes (13.0 ppg.) and Ruthie Bolton (12.8 ppg.) round out the top scorers, while Teresa Edwards dished out 8.0 assists a game.
The 2000 U.S. Olympic men's basketball team did what they were sent to do: they won the Olympic gold medal. What wasn't expected were several tight contests that kept games suspenseful for U.S. team members and basketball fans worldwide for the first time since the 1988 Olympics. The USA's gold medal crusade was a team effort. Offensively, the U.S. averaged 95.0 points a game and all 12 players scored between 14.8 and 5.5 points a game. Vince Carter, whose 14.8 points a game was third overall at the 2000 Games, provided one of the most memorable Olympic dunks in history when he leapt over France’s 7-foot-2 Frederic Weis.
After earning a 38-2 pre-Olympic exhibition record, the United States rolled to an 8-0 record and the gold medal after defeating host Australia 76-54 in the final contest in Sydney. In the USA's eight Olympic games, the squad averaged 81.0 points a game, while holding opponents to 59.3 points. Playing in her fifth and final Olympics, Teresa Edwards retired with four gold medals and one bronze, while Lisa Leslie (15.8 ppg.) and Sheryl Swoopes (13.4 ppg.) paced the USA’s scoring en route to their second Olympic gold medal.
The top to bottom competitive Olympic basketball tournament FIBA envisioned for a future Olympics after rules were changed in 1989 to allow players from the NBA to play in international competitions occurred in 2004. And as predicted, the competition was indeed the most competitive and unpredictable ever. After dropping two games in the preliminary round, the U.S. ousted Spain 102-94 in quarterfinal action, but was edged by eventual gold medalist Argentina, 89-81, in the semifinals. Determined to not leave without a medal, the USA avenged its 94-90 preliminary round loss to Lithuania. Despite Lithuania shooting a stunning 21-of-37 (.567) from beyond the 3-point arc, the U.S. went home winners as Shawn Marion came off the bench to score 22 points to help guide the Americans to a 104-96 victory and the bronze medal. Allen Iverson (13.8 ppg., 2.5 apg.), Tim Duncan (12.9 ppg., 9.1 rpg.) and Stephon Marbury (10.5 ppg., 3.4 apg.) led the USA in its bronze medal run.
Led by three-time Olympians Lisa Leslie, Dawn Staley and Sheryl Swoopes, and featuring the Olympic debut of eventual three-time Olympians Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings and Diana Taurasi, the USA team did not disappoint its fans as it captured a third-consecutive gold medal for the United States. At the forefront from the start, U.S. team captain Staley was elected by her U.S. peers to carry the flag and lead the United States delegation into the stadium at Opening Ceremonies on Aug. 13.
After the disappointing bronze medal result in the 2004 Olympics and without a gold medal finish in a major international competition since the 2000 Olympics, USA Basketball in 2005 set off in a totally new direction with its men's senior national team. Jerry Colangelo was selected by USA Basketball's Executive Committee to serve in the newly created position of managing director of the USA Men's Senior National Team program for 2005-2008 and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski signed on as the USA National Team head coach.
Together they built a program that returned the USA to the top of the Olympic podium in 2008. In claiming the gold, the USA featured a true team that was 12 deep. Five players finished with double-digit scoring averages and eight players averaged between 16.0 ppg. and 8.0 ppg. The USA's offensive effort was paced by Dwyane Wade (16.0 ppg.), LeBron James (15.5 ppg.), Kobe Bryant (15.0 ppg.), Carmelo Anthony (11.5 ppg.) and Dwight Howard (10.9 ppg.). With the gold medal effort, Jason Kidd became just the 13th U.S. male player in history to collect two Olympic gold medals.
Dominance. That's the word used by eventual four-time Olympic gold medalist Lisa Leslie at the 2008 U.S. team’s pre-Olympic Games press conference on Aug. 6. She, along with her teammates and coaches lived up to that prediction by blowing away their competition by an average margin of victory of 37.6 points a game en route to an unblemished 8-0 slate and the USA's fourth-consecutive gold medal and sixth overall in eight Olympiads. 2008 also marked the third and final Olympic gold medal for Katie Smith, who retired from international play following the Beijing Games.
The 2012 version of the U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball Team was an electrifying, high-octane scoring team. An 8-0 record, a second consecutive Olympic gold medal showing, and an average margin of victory of 32.1 points a game, were just some of the impressive numbers the men compiled in London. Where some teams win because of defense, the 2012 U.S. team was an unstoppable steamrolling offensive machine. The U.S. averaged 115.5 points a game and it was the second most points averaged ever by a U.S. Olympic men’s team. Only the famed 1992 Dream Team averaged more, out-producing the 2012 team by a slim 1.8 points a game margin (117.3 ppg. to 115.5 ppg.). In the end, and in addition to their second Olympic gold medal, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James joined an exclusive club, that previously included only David Robinson, as three-time U.S. Olympic Basketball Team members.
The U.S. team entered the 2012 Olympic Games in London as four-time defending champions, something no other women’s traditional team sport had done in the history of the Games, and cemented the USA’s legacy by capturing a fifth-straight Olympic gold medal. Led by the heartbeat of the team, tri-captains and three-time Olympic gold medalists Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings and Diana Taurasi, the U.S. left no doubt in anyone’s mind that it was the best team in the tournament and extended the USA’s Olympic winning streak to 41 games.
One Year To Rio: USA Basketball Looks Back on Every U.S. Olympic Basketball Team Since 1936
Coach K's USA Basketball Career in Photos