Since 1936 and the Olympics in Berlin, basketball is one of the Olympic sports. At those first Olympics in Berlin, the USA won the first place, while Canada was second and Mexico ended up third. Since then many things have changed. Many country names changed, many gold medal winners changed , but the passion for this game remained the same. Still, every professional sportsman’s wish is to win a gold medal at the Olympics. It is the icing on the cake of a sportsman’s career. From 1936 until now the USA won the most Olympic medals in basketball: 14 gold, one silver and two bronze medals, followed by the Soviet Union, who won eight medals (one gold, four silver and three bronze) and third on that list is SFR Yugoslavia with four medals (one gold and three silver). As said earlier, countries’ names changed, so there is no Soviet Union any more, and Russia as a part of that ex country won 1 more bronze medal, and also there is no more SFR Yugoslavia as well but now we have Croatia which won 1 silver medal and then Yugoslavia 1 more silver medal.
These Olympics in basketball in Rio were the first ones for Serbia since it became an independent country back in 2006.
Earning a place at the Olympics is not easy, as the criteria for being amongst the 12 teams from the whole world in Rio are really hard to achieve. By being the World Champion in 2014 in Spain, the USA directly qualified to the Olympics. Nigeria won the Afrocup, China as a winner of Asia Championship, Australia is the Champion of Oceania, Venezuela won the Americas Championship while Argentina was the other finalist and Spain won from Lithuania at the EuroBasket. Serbia, Croatia and France won the Olympic Qualifying Tournaments and Brazil is the host of the tournament.
The start of the Olympics was a bit unstable for many teams apart from the USA, which was the only team that won every game in the group phase. A pleasant surprise in the group phase was Australia, who played some amazing basketball and who ended up 2nd in group A with a score of four wins and only one lost game. Group A was made up of the USA, Australia, France, Serbia, Venezuela and China, while in group B Croatia, Spain, Lithuania, Argentina, Brazil and Nigeria competed. Another nice surprise was that Croatia became first in group B with a score of three wins and two losses, and thereby were ahead of the European Champion, Spain, and the European finalist, Lithuania. Since the first four teams of each group make it to the quarter finals, the competition ended with the group phase for two teams of each group. As more or less expected, those four teams were Venezuela and China form group A and Brazil and Nigeria from group B.
The quarter final matches were set and Australia played and won pretty easily against Lithuania with a score of 90:64. Serbia won against Croatia in a really tough game by three points margin . The score was 86:83, where the Serbian team won the third quarter 34:14, which was one of the key points of the match. Also, Spain surprisingly won against France with a score of 92:67. That game was also the last game for French basketball legend Tony Parker. In the last, but not least, quarter final match the USA won against Argentina by 27 points margin: 105:78.
So in the semifinals Australia and Serbia met once again and Spain played against the USA. In the first semifinal match the USA kept the lead throughout the whole match and won with a score of 82:76 with which they ensured one more Olympic basketball medal. In the other semifinal match Serbia showed an outstanding defense allowing Australia to score only 14 points in the first half, leading with 21 points at halftime. By playing consistently in the second half, Serbia made it to the finals with a score of 87:61. This was Serbia’s first medal as an independent country.
The match for third place was really tough, but it seemed that the experience of the Spanish players brought them the one point that was needed for victory and put them on the podium once again. Unfortunately for Australia, they did not make it to their first medal in basketball at the Olympics even though they were so close.
Before the finals, it seemed that Serbia could play equal with the USA, mostly because they lost only by three points in the group phase, where Bogdanovic even had a chance to take Serbia to overtime, but did not score. When the finals started, Serbia kept the pace and the first quarter was tight, the score being 19:15 for the USA. But all other quarters showed that the USA are still a much better team at the moment, which lead them to a 96:66 victory, ensuring them the 15th gold medal at the Olympics.
Text: Stefan Kapetanović