The Argentine dream: a gold that changed the history of the Games

Scola, Hermann, Ginobili, Oberto ... Athens 2004 marked the end of American rule and the triumph of the golden generation of Argentine basketball.


The United States has always been in cycles. Especially since the 1988 defeat to the Soviet Union, one of the three Olympic Games that they have not won in their entire existence. The North American federations rely on the immense superiority of the NBA over other leagues to win the gold year after year, and they do not care especially until certain defeats hurt a pride as great as the talent they profess. After falling in Seoul, the idea of playing with university students was abandoned and the members of the NBA were called up, from which the famous Dream Team emerged, negotiations through. Today, almost 30 years after that, it seems that the US is immersed in a new cycle, with a defeat as unexpected as it is deserved in the World Cup in China, and an unusual vulnerability at the start of a Games that nobody knows how are they going to end

In between, chronologically speaking, there was one more cycle: the one from 2002 to 2006. Before the Indianapolis World Cup, the USA had 58 consecutive victories in international championships. But they found the last of their shoe in Group F of that championship: Argentina. The albiceleste arrived with the best squad in its history and in its best moment ever, something unprecedented for a poor combo (sportingly speaking) that had taken a long time to emerge. On September 4, 2002, the victory against the Americans, with 15 points from Ginobili (and an 87-80 final), cut the streak. And the trends were clear in the rest of the tournament: Argentina reached the final against Yugoslavia, falling in one of the most controversial matches ever seen. The United States lost to Yugoslavia in the quarterfinals and was only able to access sixth place, falling in the fight for fifth against a Spain in an upward dynamic ... and whose moment would come.

The crisis, only explainable afterwards and after rationalization based on data, was greatest in Athens. Perhaps not because of the dimension of the defeat (bronze was reached), but because of the wounded pride, the resounding failure, the change from being called Dream Team IV to Nightmare Team. Casualties due to injuries fell to people like Vince Carter, Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady, Ray Allen or Jason Kidd, while Kobe was still immersed in his personal lawsuit for the complaint of sexual assault that they imposed a year before. And yet the squad was theoretically superior to the rest: Tim Duncna, Allen Iverson, Stephen Marbury, Lamar Odom, Carlos Boozer ... A group of stars, perhaps not all of the first line, but stars nonetheless. And coached by Larry Brown, assistant in Sydney and promoted to principal after the Indianapolis disaster. A true NBA champion, a success achieved a few months before the Olympic event, after 30 years on the benches of the best league in the world, with the Pistons and against the Lakers. A genius. Someone without whom you can't understand the NBA. But he couldn't with the Games.

Argentina's dream

There are four gold-medal basketball teams at the Olympic Games: the United States, the Soviet Union ... and Argentina. The fourth, Yugoslavia, took the title in 1980, in a competition in which the Americans were not, framed in the context of the Cold War and resigning for political reasons. Curiously, in 1988 the Soviets won (with controversy) in the last Games that participated as such, since the Berlin Wall fell two years later, before Barcelona. Of the three great dominators of basketball, only the United States remains, after the various dissolutions suffered by the dismantling of the USSR and Yugoslavia respectively. In terms of size, economic power and global impact, Argentina is clearly and completely far from the other three teams. And that, the only thing it does, is to increase the merit of the albiceleste team, which broke a once immovable domain and achieved extraordinary success.

The United States fell in the group stage against Puerto Rico (92-73, the biggest beating they have ever received) and Lithuania (94-90), and reached the quarterfinals with many doubts. Spain was waiting there, unbeaten until then and nominated as one of the favorites. The National Team was beginning to emerge in international basketball, although maturity in the form of sporting successes came later than Argentina, specifically in 2006. That year they could not beat the US: 102-94, in one of the best matches in Argentina. the Americans in the tournament. One that came at the worst moment for La Familia, in which they debuted, in some Games. Pau Gasol and Rudy Fernández, who today dispute their fifth Olympic event. Today they are legends. Then, they started to be.

Argentina, for its part, did their homework against Greece (69-64) in a hard-fought match, in which the Europeans were 6 out of 30 in triples. And the big date, the North Americans' black beast, arrived in the semifinals: 89-81 for the albiceleste with 29 points from Manu Ginobili, who after triumphing in Europe had headed for the NBA, where he had already won his first title (2003 ). The Argentine was the executioner and the coach team by Rubén Magnano defeated the favorite with some solvency, also closing the circle that began in Indianapolis. The same ones who cut the streak and started the crisis, gave the final stab and took advantage of an opportunity that has not occurred again. That of a weak, vulnerable, non-dominant and weakened United States by internal struggles (Larry Brown and Iverson), a precocious group (19 years of LeBron and Carmelo) and last-minute casualties, a loose excuse but one that weakened the team just before traveling to Athens. A situation similar to the current one.

The golden generation of Argentine basketball

Argentina beat Italy in the final and won the gold, their greatest success but not their last. They did not return to the top in World Cups or Games, but they were always at the foot of the canyon. 2014 is considered as the year in which the Golden Generation ended, but Luis Scola, his last stronghold, is still active and in his fifth Olympic Games (like Pau and Rudy), after a World Cup, that of 2019, spectacular a despite his age and in which Argentina hung a new silver (precisely against Spain). Today, the albiceleste is the only basketball team in America to win the five-fold crown at the national team level: World Champion (in 1950), Olympic Champion, FIBA Confederations Cup Champion, American Champion (2 times ) and Pan American champion (2 times). Historical.

The United States began its own reconstruction after the defeat in the 2006 World Cup. With Wade, Carmelo, LeBron and company, they lost in the semifinals against Greece. In 2004 they also hung the bronze, after beating a Lithuania with which they had lost in the group stage. They received the medal outside of the ceremony, which they did not attend, feeding the particular animosity they generate and the wounded pride, transformed into joy by all those who wanted to see him fall. The 2008 Redeem Team took the gold in Beijing and chased away ghosts. It was against Spain, which replaced Argentina as the main contender, but with the albiceleste always on the lookout and without giving up anything. The USA repeated in London and Rio, and it seems to be, after the defeat in the 2019 World Cup and the bad start in these games, in another of those downward cycles that always end with revolution and the commitment of the main stars to turn around. The last time it happened, Argentina was his executioner. Ginobili, Nocioni, Pepe Sánchez, Walter Hermann, Luis Scola ... a Golden Generation that took advantage of a historic opportunity and hung a revolutionary, extraordinary, spectacular gold. Some Games to remember. A legendary team. And much more.

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