Is Basketball In The Olympics?

Since basketball was invented in 1891 by Dr. James Naismith, it has become a global game marked by American dominance. 

Even though the first modern Olympic games were held five years after basketball began, it took the invention of the Fédération Internationale de Basketball Amateur (FIBA) in 1932 to move the game into the Olympics.

Is basketball in the Olympics? Basketball has been in the Olympics since 1936, and women’s basketball was introduced in 1976. There are also basketball competitions in the Paralympics, and in 2020, the Games included a new format of basketball (3 x 3).

History of Basketball in the Olympics

The 1936 Olympics in Berlin was the first time basketball was included, and the teams played it on an outdoor tennis court. In 1948, it was held in an indoor stadium and has been ever since. 

For the next 20 years, the United States dominated the sport without losing a single game and without fielding a single NBA player. Instead, the Olympic basketball team was made up exclusively of college players. 

In 1972, the U.S. suffered a controversial loss to the Soviet Union but reclaimed the gold in 1976. Also in 1976, the Olympic Games included women’s basketball for the first time. 

Since 1996, the United States’ women’s team has gone undefeated. Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi have five Olympic gold medals, the highest number of Olympic gold medals for any basketball player of any gender.

Types of Basketball Played at the Olympics

There are six different basketball events in the Olympic Games:

  • Men’s Basketball
  • Women’s Basketball
  • Men’s 3×3 Basketball
  • Women’s 3×3 Basketball
  • Men’s Wheelchair Basketball
  • Women’s Wheelchair Basketball

Men’s basketball has been played in every Olympic games since 1904. The International Olympic Committee admitted women’s basketball in 1976, and that competition has been included ever since. The 2020 Olympic Games featured men’s and women’s 3×3 basketball for the first time.

Since 1960, the Summer Paralympics featured men’s wheelchair basketball. In 1968, the Paralympics added a women’s wheelchair basketball competition. 

It’s interesting to note that the Paralympics included women’s basketball before the standard Summer Olympics.

What Is 3 x 3 Basketball?

A quick overview: 3 x 3 basketball features two teams that start with three players and one alternate each. The teams play for 10 minutes or until one team hits 21 points.

The game is played on a half-court and was widespread globally in an informal way. Since 2007, FIBA has offered multiple tournaments and set standardized rules for the competitions.

In 2020, the women’s U.S. team won gold, the Russian Olympic Committee won silver, and China won third. The men’s competition resulted in Latvia taking gold, the Russian Olympic Committee taking silver, and Serbia taking bronze.

What Country Has the Most Basketball Olympic Medals?

Men’s Basketball

CountryGoldSilverBronzeTotal
USA161219
Soviet Union2439
Yugoslavia1315
Argentina1012
Spain0314

The U.S. men’s team has the most gold medals (16) and the most overall medals (19). The Soviet Union has the most silver medals (4) and the most bronze medals (3).

Women’s Basketball

The U.S. women’s team has the most gold medals (9) and the most overall medals (11). Australia has to most silver medals (3) and the most bronze medals (2).

Even though basketball is a global sport, America and Americans’ influence on the game is undeniable. From its roots in the winter of Massachusetts to Tokyo in 2020 and beyond, basketball is a sport with a worldwide presence and elite levels of competition.

NBA Players In the Olympics

For many years, players from the National Basketball Association were barred from playing in the Olympic Games since the Olympics were meant to be for amateur athletes. 

However, other countries would get around this rule by giving players “allowances” instead of “wages.” Some Eastern Bloc countries listed their Olympians as being in the military when they were, in fact, just paid by the state to be athletes.

Thus, in 1989, FIBA decided that NBA players would, in fact, be allowed to play in the Olympics. This decision led to the renewed American dominance in the sport and the formation of the so-called Dream Team.

The 1992 U.S. Dream Team

Eleven players made up the basketball team that headed to the Olympics. Ten of them were NBA players, most at the peak of their careers, and one was a college basketball player.

They came from across the league, with eight NBA teams sending players. Additionally, a college player was chosen to honor the tradition of the U.S. Olympic team featuring college players.

Chicago Bulls: Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen

These two had led the Bulls to the first two of their championship three-peat just weeks before the Olympics. Michael Jordan was instrumental in building the Dream Team. 

There are even rumors that he made sure that his rival Isiah Thomas didn’t make it onto the team. However, instead of using his fame to be the poster child of the Dream Team, Jordan supported Magic Johnson and Larry Bird being co-captains.

Boston Celtics: Larry Bird

At 35 years old, Larry Bird was the oldest player on the Dream Team. His storied career was marred by a back injury that caused him to miss 37 games in his final NBA season (1991-1992). 

Despite the injury, Larry Bird played phenomenally in the Olympics. Playing on the Dream Team was a wonderful swan song for the basketball legend, who retired after taking home the gold.

Los Angeles Lakers: Magic Johnson

Magic Johnson had already been diagnosed with HIV, and he had retired from the NBA in 1991. Due to his diagnosis, he and the team faced scrutiny. 

The Australian Olympic Committee said they would boycott due to concerns that Magic would infect other players. In 1991, HIV was highly stigmatized, but this treatment of Magic Johnson actually garnered him more support. The Australian team did show up, walking back on their previous threats.

San Antonio Spurs: David Robinson

This was actually the Admiral’s second Olympic appearance, since he played on the 1988 Olympic team. Although he graduated from the United States Naval Academy and was drafted in 1987, he had to complete obligatory military service. 

Since he hadn’t started playing professionally yet, he was allowed to play in the Olympics in 1988, the last year that active NBA players weren’t allowed to participate.

The rest of the players came from the following NBA teams:

  • Utah Jazz: John Stockton and Karl Malone
  • New York Knicks: Patrick Ewing
  • Golden State Warriors: Chris Mullin
  • Philadelphia 76ers: Charles Barkley
  • Portland Trail Blazers: Clyde Drexler

Chris Davis

I'm Chris, the guy behind BasketballJoy. I've played basketball for 20+ years and have been a full-time coach since 2017. On this website, I share everything I know about the most beautiful sport in the world - Basketball.

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