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 in Los Angeles 1984 and has qualified for every Olympics since, except for Barcelona 1992. After gaining a fifth (1984) and fourth (1988), the women broke through to the medals, winning bronze in Atlanta 1996. They improved to silver medal performances in 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.
Australia’s men first played in Melbourne 1956 and have qualified for every Olympics since, except for Rome in 1960 and Mexico City 1968. The best placings achieved have been fourths in Seoul (1988), Barcelona (1992) and Sydney (2000).
Basketball was a demonstration sport in 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.