Basketball was on the Olympic program in 1904, but the event was contested by only a few American club teams and actually served as the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) Championship for that year. Thus the event is usually considered only a demonstration event. The winning team, incidentally, was the Buffalo Germans club, which established a reputation for dominance in those days that they got them inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a team.
In 1936, basketball made its first appearance as a medal sport at the Olympics, and the sport has been included in every Olympic Games since. In 1976, women's basketball was added to the program. The United States has dominated international basketball. The USA won all the Olympic titles until 1972 when they were defeated by the Soviet Union. The Soviet women were originally the top team on the female side, winning gold in 1976, 1980 and 1992, but the US women have now surpassed them, winning gold medals in 1984, 1988, 1996 and 2000.
Today, basketball has become one of the most popular sports in the world, rivaling football (soccer) for world-wide popularity and trailing only volleyball and track and field athletics in terms of number of member federations. US College basketball is wildly popular in the United States, culminating each March with the NCAA Championships. The National Basketball Association (NBA) is the professional basketball league in the United States and universally considered to be the strongest in the world with the European leagues being close in terms of competition and public awareness.
In 1992, for the first time, NBA players were allowed to represent the USA and all other countries in national team competition. The 1992 US Team, dubbed the "Dream Team" by the world's media, was certainly the greatest basketball team ever assembled and it dominated the 1992 Olympic tournament. Full professional participation is now allowed for both men and women in basketball at the Olympics. With the United States allowed to use NBA professionals, they have reasserted their dominance at the international level, with victory in every tournament in which NBA players have participated. However, the gap between the USA and the rest of the world seems to be ever decreasing, as was witnessed during the Sydney Olympics, in which the USA was tested several times on the way to the gold medal. Further proof of that challenge has been given by the sensational upset of a star domed US team during the 2002 FIBA World Championship in Indianapolis, USA. Argentina, Yugoslavia and Spain defeated the USA who was left with a disappointing sixth place in their own country.
The Olympics are held every four years. The next Olympics will be held in Beijing in 2008.
The USA's domination in men's basketball at the Olympics is no longer the foregone conclusion that it was in the early years. During the post-World War II era, the Cold War extended prominently onto the Olympic hardwood. The USA and the Soviet Union played for the gold medal in five of six Olympics in the period 1952-1972. Other than the USA and the Soviet Union, only Yugoslavia and Argentina have ever won the gold medal.
|Year||Host City/Nation||Gold Medal||Score||Silver Medal|
|1952||Helsinki||United States||36-25||Soviet Union|
|1956||Melbourne||United States||89-55||Soviet Union|
|1960||Rome||United States||No playoffs||Soviet Union|
|1964||Tokyo||United States||73-59||Soviet Union|
|1968||Mexico City||United States||65-50||Yugoslavia|
|1972||Munich||Soviet Union||51-50||United States|
|1984||Los Angeles||United States||96-65|
|2016||Rio de Janeiro|
The Soviet Union was the dominant power in women's basketball at the Olympics early on. The USA has been strong, however, and has grown stronger. Beginning with the 1996 Games, the U.S. Women have won every gold medal.