Tokyo Olympics: Basketball

  • 01/01/2021

Basketball competition at Tokyo will take place under two formats - the traditional five-on-five game and, for the first time, an abbreviated 3X3 competition.


First contested at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, men's basketball has been dominated by the United States ever since, with the Americans winning 15 of 19 gold medals.

Until 1992, they selected their teams from college players, who were still able to overcome their older, more experienced rivals from around the world.

But their unbeaten run was broken by the Soviet Union in a controversial 1972 Munich final and when they could only manage a bronze medal at Seoul 1988, the Americans decided enough was enough.

For Barcelona 1992, they recruited probably the strongest line-up ever assembled - an NBA roster known as 'The Dream Team', featuring Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and several other all-time greats of the game.

While they were upset by Argentina at Athens 2004, USA have largely restored their dominance and the reigning world champions must start as favourites again at Tokyo.

Meanwhile, the American women have been equally as commanding, capturing six straight Olympic titles and eight of 11, since Montreal 1976.

New Zealand enjoyed a purple patch through the 2000s, when both men and women attended  Sydney and Athens, then the Tall Ferns contested Beijing 2008, but neither have qualified for Tokyo. 


The shortened version of the game has become popular internationally over the past decade and will make its first Olympic appearance at Tokyo.

USA are the reigning men’s World Cup champions, but Serbia have won four of the six tournament contested since 2012, while China are currently world women’s titleholders.

Five to watch

Rudy Gobert (France)

Dubbed sport's 'Patient Zero' after he tested positive for COVID-19 in March 2020 and triggered a shutdown of the entire NBA, Utah Jazz centre Gobert will lead the French team in Japan, where concern over the spread of the virus dominates life.

A three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Gobert will be key to French medal hopes, but with the Jazz making a deep run into the postseason, how much gas he has left in the tank for Tokyo will be something to watch.

Liz Cambage (Australia)

Cambage, a centre with the WNBA Las Vegas Aces, had threatened to boycott the Tokyo Games over a lack of racial diversity in Australia's Olympic photo-shoots, but after clearing the air, is ready to lead the Opals in Japan.

Liz Cambage in action for Australia
Liz Cambage in action for Australia. Photo credit: Getty

Shut out of the medals at Rio 2016, the Opals will looking for a return to the podium in Tokyo, after winning a silver or bronze at every Games since 1996.

Sue Bird (United States)

Bird has represented the United States at four Olympics and has four gold medals. She wants five.

Taken first overall in the 2002 NBA draft, the 40-year-old point guard has also won four WNBA titles with Seattle Storm and is a five-time Euroleague champion.

Widely recognised as one of her sport's all-time greats, Bird will provide veteran leadership, as the United States go for a seventh straight gold.

Bradley Beal (United States)

The All Star guard was one of the first players to commit to playing under coach Gregg Popovich, as the 'Dream Team' go for a fourth straight Olympic title at Tokyo.

Beal, who averaged a career-high 31.3 points a game and shot 48.5 percent from the field for Washington Wizards in the 2020/21 NBA season, will look forward to linking up with close friend Jayson Tatum in the squad.

Luis Scola (Argentina)

Scola will be the only basketball player in Tokyo to have done something no other has done - bating the United States at an Olympics.

Scola, 41, will bring down a dazzling Olympic career in Japan that was highlighted by an 89-81 semi-final win over the US Dream Team at Athens 2004. Scola scored a game high 19-points in the gold medal win over Italy, as Argentina became the only country in the last seven Olympics to interrupt US domination on the hardwood.