Is Basketball in the Olympics?

Basketball is one of the world’s most popular sports, with millions of fans and players worldwide.

Many young participants aspire to grow up and be just as good at the game as athletes like LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant.

With the sport having such a large and loyal viewership, one question that arises is whether people associate it’s popularity as being built purely on the polished product that the NBA offers.

After all, when one thinks of basketball you often tend to picture America’s highest level basketball league.

So, are there other competitions where basketball gets to shine?

In this article, we’ll get to the bottom of this matter, with particular insight on whether basketball as a sport is included in the Olympic Games.

If you take a moment to think about it, it’s a really good question to ask!

Here’s a quick answer summary to kick things off…

Basketball has been a part of the Olympics for the past eight decades, since 1936. It has been played at the Olympic Games for the past 80 years and is one of the few team spectator sports that maintains its appeal when played at the Games.

Baseball lasted only 16 years as an official Olympic sport (though it has been added to the 2020 Games), and Olympic football (soccer) loses some of its charm due to the fact that it doesn’t feature the game’s biggest stars and is overshadowed by more prestigious international tournaments such as the European Championships and the FIFA World Cup.

Basketball, on the other hand, offers top talent from around the world competing at the highest level and has become one of the highlight events of every Olympiad.

Read on to get the full picture of the sport’s inclusion within this prestigious competition that takes place every four years.

History of basketball in the Olympics

Basketball made its Olympic debut as a demonstration sport at the 1936 Berlin Games and was made an official medal sport at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

It has remained a fixture on the Olympic program ever since.

The United States of America is the most successful basketball team in Olympic history.

At the Berlin 1936 Games, as many as 21 teams competed for top honors, with the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) playing a key role in spreading the sport to various nations.

No one could stop the USA, who romped to overwhelming victories in each of their matches to clinch gold.

The Americans grew stronger in the years that followed, retaining the Olympic crown in emphatic fashion.

With no defeats throughout their campaigns, their victories in their gold medal matches were especially impressive.

They have dominated the sport at the Olympics, winning a record 16 golds out of a possible 19, including an unbeaten run from 1936 to 1968.

How do teams qualify for Olympic basketball?

National teams must compete in their respective continental championships, such as the FIBA Americas Championship or the FIBA European Championship, to qualify for the Olympic Games.

The top teams from these events, along with the host nation and the reigning Olympic champion, qualify for the Olympics.

A total of 12 teams, each in the men’s and women’s competition, qualify for the basketball event at the Olympic Games.

Qualification for the Olympic Games begins at the FIBA Basketball World Cup.

The Olympic Games qualification method will remain international, ensuring that every continent is represented.

The FIBA Basketball World Cup will produce seven directly qualifying Olympic national teams, with the hosts getting automatic qualification.

Two teams from the Americas, two teams from Europe, one team from Africa, one team from Asia, and one team from Oceania will compete for the seven available seats.

The FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments will compete for the four remaining spots in the 12-team Olympic competition.

The first round, known as the FIBA Olympic Pre-Qualifying Tournaments, is held at the continental level and produces five teams who advance to the second phase, known as the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments.

What is the competition format of basketball at the Olympics?

Men’s and women’s basketball are both featured in the Olympic Games.

Each team can have a maximum of 12 players on their roster, and the games are played in accordance with the International Basketball Federation’s rules (FIBA).

With a preliminary round, quarter-finals, semi-finals, and medal round, that comprises the tournament.

The top two teams in each group advance to the quarterfinals, where they compete in a single-elimination style until the last two teams compete for the gold medal.

Beginning with the 2022 Tokyo Summer Olympics, instead of dividing the 12 participating teams into two groups of six as in the past, the summer Olympics will divide them into three groups of four and compete in a round-robin format, with only the top teams from each group advancing.

A draw will then determine the quarterfinal matchups.

The three first-place teams and the best second-place team will be placed in one pot, and the rest of the teams will be placed in another.

This is because teams from the same original group cannot play each other again in the quarterfinals.

More so, the first- and the second-place teams from each group and the two best third-place teams overall will advance to the knockout round.

Here’s an informative video which explains shows the draw procedures that were in place for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo:

Furthermore, for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, the summer Olympics will include a three-on-three competition, or (3×3) as the Olympics refers to it.

So how does it work?

Well, the basics and rules of basketball will carry on over into the 3-on-3 format.

Dribbling, shooting, rebounding, and defence remain the core tenets, and players must be able to excel in all phases of the game.

With rosters set at four players per team, versatility is key, and substitutions and rotations are frequent due to the intensity.

Fewer players on a smaller court playing for a very limited time means the players need to be very versatile and able bodied  to guard and score against a variety of different sizes and skilled players.

This brings so much intensity and tension to the fast-paced and exciting game.

Can NBA players participate at the Olympics?

As a matter of fact, they can.

Players who usually compete in America’s biggest and best basketball competition are normally given special dispensation to represent their nations at the Olympics.

However, it wasn’t always like this.

Basketball was played by amateurs in the Olympics until 1992’s Summer Games in Barcelona, which were the first Olympics to allow NBA players to participate in the event.

As a result, the U.S. put together the “Dream Team,” made up of some of the greatest NBA basketball players of all time, including legends who dominated the tournament, such as:

  • Michael Jordan;
  • Magic Johnson;
  • Larry Bird;
  • Charles Barkley; and
  • Karl Malone
basketball at the olympics - USA dream team members

The so-called “Dream Team” helped spur an explosion in basketball popularity around the globe, which subsequently led to an influx of international talent into the NBA in the early 21st century.

Closing thoughts

In conclusion, basketball is included as a sport within the Olympic Games.

Since its introduction into the Olympics in 1936, basketball has been and remains a popular and competitive sport.

For further reading about some of the ins and outs of basketball, feel free to check out our blog content on:

About Samuel Waihenya

Samuel is an avid fan of basketball and has been following the sport for over 10 years. He now intends to dedicate his time to produce great content for his own little basketball blog that aims to help its readership with whatever basketball-related topic they can think of. Have a read through Samuel Waihenya's author bio page here.