Though still three wins shy of claiming a third consecutive FIBA World Cup title, the U.S. men’s basketball team checked off a vital goal Monday: qualifying for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
With the team’s win over Brazil, the U.S. clinched its Olympic berth by merit of being one of the top two finishers from the Americas at the FIBA World Cup, which runs through Sept. 15 in China. Argentina is the other qualifier from the Americas, as both nations are headed to the quarterfinals.
Not that there was much suspense.
Basketball was founded in 1891 in Springfield, Massachusetts, and since men’s basketball became an Olympic sport in 1936 the U.S. has dominated the competition. Excluding the 1980 Olympic Games, which the U.S. boycotted, Team USA has medaled in all 18 Olympic basketball tournaments in which it’s competed. Fifteen of those medals were gold.
The men have been especially dominant since the 1992 Olympics, when NBA players were allowed to take part for the first time and the world was introduced to the “Dream Team.” Since then, the U.S. has only fallen short of the gold medal once, when it won a bronze in 2004.
Now Team USA is competing in this year’s World Cup while carrying a 48-game winning streak in the Olympics and World Cup, with the last competitive loss in those top-level tournaments coming in the semifinals of the 2006 World Cup (then called the World Championship). The U.S. did fall to Australia in a pre-World Cup exhibition on Aug. 24, though, snapping a 13-year and 78-game winning streak overall.
While some of the NBA’s biggest stars are expected to rejoin Team USA for the Tokyo Games, the U.S. is going for its record third World Cup title this month with a more developmental roster. Following the withdrawals of several players from consideration for this year’s tournament, Team USA came to China with just two NBA All-Stars — Kemba Walker and Khris Middleton — and one Olympian, Harrison Barnes.
Nonetheless, the U.S. came into the tournament as the world’s top-ranked team, and behind those players and other up-and-comers such as Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum and Joe Harris, Team USA survived a tough test against Turkey en route to sweeping through the first round, and then beat Greece and Brazil in the second round to earn a berth in Wednesday’s quarterfinals.
Walker has led the U.S. so far with 24.4 points per game and 6 assists per game, while Myles Turner has averaged 8 rebounds.
The 12-player 2020 U.S. Olympic Men's Basketball Team will likely be determined in July of next year. USA Basketball lists several big-name NBA players among its player pool for the 2019-20 national team, including LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, James Harden and Kawhi Leonard.
No matter which players make up the final roster, Gregg Popovich will lead Team USA. The five-time NBA champion coach of the San Antonio Spurs took over from Duke men’s coach Mike Krzyzewski, who led the U.S. to three Olympic gold medals and two World Cup wins from 2005 through 2016.
Popovich will have plenty of support on the bench from assistant coaches Steve Kerr (Golden State Warriors), Lloyd Pierce (Atlanta Hawks) and Jay Wright (Villanova men).
The U.S. women’s basketball team, which has won the past six Olympic gold medals, had previously qualified for the Tokyo Games by merit of winning the 2018 FIBA World Cup.