• Five Facts About Rio Olympic Basketball

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    1 A United States lineup of NBA stars will be heavy favorites to capture America’s 15th gold medal in men’s basketball, the third in a row and sixth in seven tries since the USA “Dream Team” era began in 1992 at Barcelona with a Michael Jordan-led superstar squad. The USA men are 130-5 in Olympic play and on a 17-game Olympic win streak from the 1994 Athens bronze medal game.

    The first US defeat was a controversial loss to the Soviet Union in the 1972 Munich final in which the last seconds were replayed three times, the Americans surrendering the winning basket on the Soviet’s last try. At Seoul in 1988, the US collegians lost to the Soviet Union in a semi-final, sparking the decision for USA Basketball to assemble a “Dream Team” for 1992. Three gold medals followed.

    Several stars chose not to go to Athens in 2004 and the USA team lost its opener 93-72 to Puerto Rico. Another group stage loss to Lithuania followed and after beating Spain in a quarter-final, the US men fell 89-81 to eventual champion Argentina in a semi-final. They beat Lithuania for bronze but the humbling effort prompted the creation of a US national team program with Mike Krzyzewski as coach. Since then, the US men are 75-1 overall and on a current 63-game win streak, their only loss coming to Greece in the 2006 World Championship semi-finals in Japan.

    2 Some NBA stars withdrew from the US team for Rio, some citing Zika virus concerns. Among the absentees are LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Anthony Davis. But the US lineup is still formidable with forwards Kevin Durant, Paul George, Draymond Green, Carmelo Anthony and Harrison Barnes; guards Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Kyrie Irving and Klay Thompson and centers DeAndre Jordan and DeMarcus Cousins.

    3 The US Women’s NBA stars will be seeking a sixth consecutive Olympic gold medal and an eighth in nine tries. Since the opening tip of the 1984 Los Angeles Games, the US women are 55-1 in Games competition, losing only in the 1992 Barcelona semi-finals to the eventual champion Commonwealth of Independent States squad of former Soviet talent.

    Three-time Olympic champions Diana Taurasi, Tamika Catchings and Sue Bird will serve as captains with two-time Olympic gold medalists Seimone Augustus and Sylvia Fowles, 2012 Olympic championship players Tina Charles, Angel McCoughtry, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen also back. Elena Delle Donne, Brittney Griner and collegian Breanna Stewart complete the US roster.

    4 The USA women were drawn into preliminary group B along with Canada, Senegal, Serbia, China and Spain. Pool A features Australia, Brazil, Japan, France, Turkey and Belarus. The USA men were drawn into Pool A along with Australia, China, France, Serbia and Venezuela. Group B features Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Lithuania, Croatia and Nigeria.

    5 Mike Krzyzewski would become the first coach in Olympic men’s basketball history to win three gold medals if he can guide the American NBA stars to a title in Rio. Henry Iba coached the US team to gold in 1964 and 1968 but lost the controversial 1972 final to the Soviet Union. Carmelo Anthony would become the first man in Olympic history to win three gold medals if the USA win the title in Rio. The New York Knicks star forward helped the USA take gold in 2008 and 2012. Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James could have been going for the same unprecedented treble this year but withdrew from after the fatigue of a six-month season and two months of playoffs that culminated with him leading the Cavaliers to the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history, rallying from a 3-1 deficit defeat Golden State in the best-of-seven championship series.

    AFP

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