In terms of the Olympic Games, identifying a super favorite team in most of collective sports turns out to be quite complicated; however, that’s not what happens with basketball, since everybody knows that, in the edition of the Olympic Games to be hosted by Rio de Janeiro, the United States’ team is the main candidate to win the title in both genders, once again.
The United States has long mastered men’s Olympic basketball, with 14 gold medals out of the possible 18 since that sport was included in the official program of the Olympic Games, back in Berlin, in 1936. Perhaps this victorious career went through a dangerous moment in the 1980s, when the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia were capable of defeating the US team.
The modification of Olympic rules in the 1990s allowed professional players to compete in this event. As a result of this modification, the United States participated in Barcelona Olympic Games, in 1992, with its “Dream Team”, perhaps the most complete team of all time because the list included such super stars as Michael Jordan, “Magic” Johnson and Karl Malone. Ever since that moment, although the teams have not always been so “dream-like”, the truth is that the American team has always stood out in the sport of baskets and everybody thinks that, in Rio, emblematic Mike Krzyzewski will lead them to the crown.
America has climbed to the top of the podium in five out of the past six editions of the Olympic Games. The US team only failed in Athens 2004, when Argentina, with a young Manu Ginobili, defeated it in semifinals. Now, “Coach K” will have the opportunity to handpick 12 stars. So far, most of them have agreed to go to Rio, although many things can change before August, since the players are worried about possible lesions that could compromised their performance in the NBA; but, anyway, there is great talent available.
All eyes will be focused on two men: LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. Both basketball players have participated in three Olympic Games and they own three medals: two golden medals, in Beijing and London with the final victory against the same rival (Spain), and one bronze, in Athens. If they hold the title, they would make history with two records, since they would be the basketball players with the highest number of golden medals (3) and other colors (4). For Rio 2016 the twelve competing teams—eight of which have already been qualified— were divided into two groups. The competition system includes a round robin to define the four teams that will go to the qualifying competitions.
The United States qualified by winning the World Championship, organized by Spain in 2014, and it was included in Group A, which seems to be the less complicated. The “Dream Team” will be accompanied by the Venezuelan team, the unexpected winner of the FIBA America held in Mexico City last year. China is also a member of that group, as the champion of Asia, and Australia, champion of Oceania. There are two positions available for those who win two out of the three Olympic qualifying tournaments to be carried out in July.
Group B can be described as the toughest one. It’s made up of Spain, led by Sergio Scariolo, who’ll try to change his luck since he lost the past two editions of the Olympic Games against the United States. The Gasol brothers must be healthy in Rio for his great team, which should include its “NBA legion”, to have real opportunity to win the title. This is a problem so far, since both brothers are facing medical complications in the ongoing NBA season.
The main two hopes of Latin America were included in the same group. Argentina and Brazil find consolation in the fact that, by clashing in the qualifying stage, they will avoid a duel in the sudden death of quarterfinals. Both teams could include most of their players that presently participate in NBA tournaments and other leagues of the world. Argentina will be missing Ginobili, who retired from the national team. Lithuania is another powerful rival in Group B, runner-up in Europe; while the African champion, Nigeria, is likely to be eliminated. The sixth member will be decided in the third Olympic trials. Is any team going to be strong enough to stop the US “Dream Team”? If the Americans take the event seriously—they did it in Beijing and London—the gold medal is likely to end up hanging from the necks of Stephen Curry and his friends.
In the women’s basketball tournament, the US team is also the favorite to hold the crown it has won since the Atlanta Olympic Games, back in 1996. The debut of the girls in Olympic Games took place in Munich, 1972, and the American team has won 7 out of the 10 editions to date. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Australia has been the strongest rival, a team that fought—and lost—three finals in a row, 2000 – 2008.
According to the draw carried out by the International Basketball Federation, America, the present world champion, went to Group B, along with the Canadian team, which won its ticket by winning the FIBA America event, held last year in Edmonton. The group also comprises Senegal, as African champion, and Serbia, standing for Europe. There are two positions available, so 12 teams will be competing for them in Nantes, France, in June. Three Latin American teams are going to participate in that event: Cuba, Argentina and Venezuela.
On the other hand, Group A engulfs Brazil, as hosting country, along with Japan, the Asian champion; Australia, champion of Oceania, and other three teams to be defined in Nantes. Just like the men’s tournament, four teams will go up in each group, to the direct elimination games. The United States, with its best WNBA players, will be taking the lead. We’ll see if the Australians or any European team can surprise the world.