Australia and Olympic Basketball
It has been the women who have produced the best results for Australia in basketball at the Olympic Games. Australia’s women’s team made its first appearance at Los Angeles 1984 and, outside of Barcelona 1992, has qualified for every Olympics since. After finishing fifth in1984 and fourth in 1988, the women broke through to claim their first Olympic medal at Atlanta 1996 when they finished with bronze. They improved to silver medal performances at Sydney 2000, Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008, losing to the United States on all three occasions. In 2012 the women lost a preliminary match against France in overtime to finish second in their pool and face the United States in the semi final. After falling to the US 86-73, Flagbearer Lauren Jackson led the team to an 83-74 win over Russia to seal the bronze medal. With hopes of pushing for gold at Rio 2016, Australia won all five of their preliminary matches before going down 73-71 to Serbia in the quarter-finals as their streak of five straight Olympic medals came to an end.
Australia’s men first played at Melbourne 1956 and have qualified for every Olympic competition since outside of Rome 1960 and Mexico City 1968. The side went close to winning a medal at Seoul 1988, Barcelona 1992 and Sydney 2000, as they finished fourth on each occasion, but nothing was as heartbreaking as their bronze medal match loss at the Rio 2016 Games. Led by the likes of Andrew Bogut, Patty Mills, Matt Dellavedova and Joe Ingles, the Australian side began the competition with wins over medal contenders France and Serbia. A close loss to the USA was backed up by strong wins over China and Venezuela to see the side finish their group in second. They eased past Lithuania in the quarter-finals before going down to Serbia 87-61 in the semi-finals. The result set up a bronze medal clash with Spain which went down to the wire. Australia again missed a medal by the barest of margins as the Spanish scored two free throws with just over 5 seconds remaining to take the final position on the Rio podium.
Basketball was a demonstration sport at St Louis 1904 and did not achieve full medal status until Berlin 1936. At each of the Olympics that were staged from Berlin until Mexico City 1968, the United States did not lose a match and consequently won seven straight gold medals. The USSR inflicted the first defeat on the United States in the final in Munich 1972. It was the sixty-third game of Olympic basketball that the United States had played. Because of the controversial nature of the finish to that game the members of the United States team refused to collect their silver medals. The women’s competition was introduced four years later in Montreal.
Professional players were permitted to play at the Barcelona Games in 1992 and as a result, the Dream Team from the United States made its all-conquering debut. The members of that team were Larry Bird, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Scottie Pippen, Michael Jordan, Clyde Drexler, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Christopher Mullin, Charles Barkley and Christian Laettner. The next two ‘Dream Teams’ won in Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000. In Athens however the American team missing some of their NBA stars were upstaged by Argentina who won the gold with the Americans only good enough for bronze. In Beijing four years later the ‘Redeem Team’ beat Spain for the gold.
Each team consists of 12 players, with five players per team on the court at any one time. Olympic basketball matches consist of two 20-minute halves. If the score is tied at the end of 40 minutes of play, a five-minute overtime period is played. Further overtime periods are played until the deadlock is broken. There are twelve teams in both men’s and women’s Olympic tournaments. The teams are grouped into two pools of six, with an even spread of top seeded teams. The top four teams in each pool following the preliminary games progress to the quarter-finals where the elimination format begins.