Special Report by Ciaran Fletcher
In football-mad Great Britain, basketball does not rank as one of the more popular sports.
As the 2016 Olympics rapidly approaches, some of the game’s biggest stars will be descending on Rio looking to claim the coveted men’s gold medal.
Many have predicted the competition to be another procession for the USA, as the Dream Team slam-dunk their way to a fairly comfortable win. They have what many regard as the world’s best player in LeBron James, star point-guard Chris Paul and last season’s MVP Steph Curry.
These claims are justified given the legacy and success that the US have enjoyed, with 14 wins out of the 17 tournaments they have participated in, including seven successive titles from 1936 to 1968.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski will take charge of his third and final Olympic Games, saying: “Hopefully we can finish things up well with Rio and I would move onto something else with USA Basketball, but I think we’re ready as an organisation to do that, and I’m excited about the future.”
US dominance is not assured however, as there are now several teams that could push them all the way.
Spain look set to be the States’ closest competitors, currently residing in second place in the FIBA world rankings. The European champions head into Rio having finished runner-up in the last two Games, losing to the USA 116-105 in Beijing and 109–100 at London 2012.
Their roster for 2016 is set to feature Chicago Bulls power-forward Pau Gasol for his fourth Olympic Games appearance. Gasol will have to replicate the form that saw him become the top points-scorer at the 2004 Games in Athens.
Spain will also be able to call on a number of players from Europe’s most successful club Real Madrid, who are champions of Europe, holders of the Spanish league and Cup, as well as FIBA Inter-continental champions.
Lithuania, Argentina and France make up the rest of the FIBA top five, with the latter having to rely heavily on NBA duo Tony Parker and Joakim Noah. They are looking to qualify for the Games via the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Manila after missing out on qualification last summer.
France will be considered favourites to overcome Canada, Turkey, Senegal, New Zealand and the Philippines in group B. Outsiders include Serbia, led by San Antonio Spurs centre and fan-favourite Boban Marjanović.
· Gold Medals: 2012 Olympic Games, 2008 Olympic Games, 2007 FIBA Americas Championship, 2001 USA Basketball Youth Development Festival
· Bronze Medals: 2006 FIBA World Champioship, 2004 Olympic Games.
· Gasol won silver medals at the 2003 and 2007 EuroBasket, and the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games.
· He was also the highest-scoring player of the 2004 Summer Olympics and Spain’s flag bearer at the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics, replacing the injured Rafael Nadal.
· In 2014, Gasol was named to the All-tournament team of the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
· Parker returned to the national team after a series of injuries in 2011, and France reached the finals of the 2011 EuroBasket, losing to Spain.
· Parker also joined the team for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. In 2013, Pa the French national team won the 2013 FIBA EuroBasket tournament.
· Playing for France in EuroBasket 2015, in a group game against Poland, Parker scored his 1032nd point, in doing so overtaking Nikos Galis as the all-time highest scorer in the history of the Eurobasket competition.