Basketball was first demonstrated at the 1904 Olympics in St Louis and became an official Olympic sport at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Since then it has featured in every Summer Olympics and is sure to be a hugely popular event at Rio 2016, where it is scheduled to take place between 5th and 21st August 2016.
In the men's game, it is known that teams will be fielded by Brazil, the U.S.A., Nigeria, Venezuela, Argentina, China, Spain, Lithuania and Australia with three further places to be decided. In the women's game, teams will be fielded by Brazil, the U.S.A., Senegal, Canada, Japan, Serbia and Australia with a further five places to be decided.
The groupings for the men's game are as follows:
- Group A: U.S.A., Venezuela, China, Australia plus two further qualifiers
- Group B: Argentina, Spain, Brazil, Lithuania, Nigeria and one further qualifier
The groupings for the women's game are as follows:
- Group A: Japan, Brazil, Australia plus three further qualifiers
- Group B: Canada, U.S.A., Senegal, Serbia plus two further qualifiers
During the group stages each of the teams in each group will play each of their opponents once. The winners will receive two points and the losers one. At the end of this, the two teams in each group with the lowest number of points are eliminated and the remaining 8 teams progress to the knockout stage. The knockout stage begins with four matches between the eight remaining teams, with the losers being eliminated and the winners progressing to the semi-finals. The winners of the two semi-final matches play each other for the gold and silver medals, while the losers play each other for the bronze.
Heading into the games, team U.S.A. are the hot favourites for the men's game, having won gold at both London 2012 and Beijing 2008. So much that everyone is betting on them winning with gambling operators such as Matchbook. While the extensive number of international players in the NBA will be looking to represent their home countries (if they have qualified), the U.S.A. still has its work cut out to choose a 12-man squad from their huge pool of talent. Anthony Davis, Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant have all either been ruled out or ruled themselves out. There is considered to be a strong likelihood of seeing Olympic stalwarts such as LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Carmelo Anthony is also held to be very much in the running, if he actually wants to play. Some, however, believe that he will choose to rest his knee. Stephen Curry is widely held to be a must-have player. For the rest, however, the field is still very much open, with injuries (current and potential future) needing to be taken into consideration when building a team.
Likewise in the women's game, the U.S.A. are also strong favourites, in fact, if anything bigger favourites than their male counterparts. As seven-times Olympic gold medallists, there are undoubtedly seen as the team to beat. Team U.S.A. women's captain Sue Bird recently became the most decorated female player in the history of the FIBA World Championship for Women (with one bronze medal and three golds of which two were consecutive), while the U.S.A.'s Maya Moore was the event's top scorer and nominated the most valuable player for the tournament. Both of these ladies are likely contenders for places in the women's basketball team, with the rest of the squad being very much open for negotiation.
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While the U.S.A. has been the dominant force in both the men's and women's games for many years, the internationalization continues apace, with particularly strong growth in China and Japan. The success of Yao Ming brought basketball to China in a big way, which in turn has led to China being an Olympic-qualifying nation in the men's game. In the women's game, Japan has arrived back on the Olympic scene after a 12-year absence.
Given the growing popularity of basketball in India, it seems only a matter of time before India is fielding teams in both the men's and women's games.