Thursday, September 21, 2023

Argentina, from the Olympic glory of Athens 2004 to the debacle

There is no basketball fan in the world -unless he was American, obviously- who was not moved in 2004, when at the Athens Olympic Games the Argentine team defeated the all-powerful ‘Dream Team’ in the semifinals to reach the final and then gold against Italy.

Outstanding American names such as Tim Duncan, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson and Dwayne Wade were unable in the penultimate round of the competition with a team that had begun its legend two years earlier, at the World Cup in Indianapolis, by winning the medal of silver and who implanted a seal of quality in FIBA ​​basketball for 15 years: the ‘Golden Generation’.

Fabricio Oberto, Luis Scola, Andrés Nocioni and, above all of them, the leadership of Emanuel ‘Manu’ Ginóbili were the most outstanding players of that team capable of astonishing the whole world with their game and results.

Of that spectacular combination of players who won silver in the 2002 World Cup in the United States, gold in the 2004 Athens Games and bronze in Beijing 2008, in addition to various medals in FIBA ​​Americas, the shooting guard is still an active player. Carlos Delfino, who, about to turn 41, this Sunday contributed 15 points and 5 rebounds, but saw how Argentina’s dream of celebrating 20 years of Athens in Paris in 2024 vanished.

The 82-75 defeat against the Bahamas in the final of the 2023 Americas Pre-Olympic Qualifying Tournament, which concluded this Sunday in the Argentine city of Santiago del Estero, was a blow to the illusions of the albiceleste basketball, which already in February was out of the World Cup in the Philippines, Indonesia and Japan, which begins on August 25.

Since Sydney 2000

The one in Paris will be the first Olympic event since Sydney 2000 in which the Argentine basketball team will not be present.

Gold in Athens 2004, bronze in Beijing 2008, fourth in London 2012 after losing the fight for bronze, quarterfinalist in Rio 2016 -which marked the goodbye of Nocioni and Ginóbili- and Tokyo 2020 -after which Scola withdrew-, the Albiceleste In recent decades, it was one of the great cheerleaders, along with Spain, of international basketball outside the orbit of the United States and the NBA.

At the head of this team, as coach, is another of the members of that ‘Golden Generation’, former baseman Pablo Prigioni, today an assistant at the Minnesota Timberwolves, of the NBA, in whose record the only thing missing is the gold from Athens by decision of the then technician, Ruben Magnano.

«It was easy to come to the national team when there were six or seven players in the NBA, when it was a power. Now that is not the situation; in fact, the Bahamas had three NBA players and we had none. Our reality is this, without players in the NBA, with good players in Europe, and we have to focus on that, on that transformation,” said the coach after the defeat against the Bahamas.

And, as explained by the former player of, among others, Baskonia and Real Madrid in the ACB League and Houston Rockets and New York Knicks in the NBA, the current scenario is very different: already in the 2019 World Cup in China, Argentina was a miraculous runner-up, losing to Spain in the final, with a Scola about to say goodbye but as team leader and without NBA players in their ranks.

The best league in the world will begin this season without a single Argentine player, after Facu Campazzo, Gaby Deck, Leandro Bolmaro or Nicolás Laprovittola have passed through it in recent years.

These last two missed Prigioni’s call for the Pre-Qualifier that gave access to the Pre-Olympics next July towards Paris 2024. It is one of the reasons that can be analyzed when talking about the harsh elimination.

Another was the call to the Bahamas for NBA players Deandre Ayton, Eric Gordon and Buddy Hield, who brought enough quality to the Caribbean team to continue towards their Olympic dream and raised the level of a tournament for which Argentina was the favorite.

But, without a doubt, this elimination marks a before and after -as did the failure to qualify for the 2023 World Cup- and, as Campazzo summed up at the end of the meeting to the TyC Sports channel: «You have to chew on this and move on. You have to keep building and the best way to do it is with enthusiasm.

When Argentina lost to the Dominican Republic in the World Cup qualifiers, more than one of its members highlighted how hard it would be to watch the Asian event on television. More terrifying it seems to see the Olympic Games in Paris as the country celebrates the gold medal in Athens two decades later.


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