In the National Basketball Association, there are a number of accolades that separate a select few players from the lot. They include the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award, the Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) award, the scoring title, and arguably the most prestigious and coveted one of them all – the Larry O’Brien trophy, which is more commonly known as the NBA World Championship title. There is however one more honor that is arguably more significant than all the above since it is a testament to victory in representing one’s country and has equally only been won by an exclusive club of players – gold medals.
What NBA players have gold medals? Many NBA players have won gold medals in the various eras they have played. The list includes the likes of Michael Jordan, the late great Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Allen Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and Kevin Durant but to mention a few. While most NBA fans often think that only NBA players can win gold medals, nothing couldn’t be further from the truth as college players are also handed the opportunity.
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No other country has fared better in international competition than the United States since the game of basketball was invented by James Naismith in 1891. At the Summer Olympics, basketball was first held as a demonstration in 1904 and was later officially included as a medal sport in 1936. To date, the US has won an impressive 16 gold medals at the quadrennial event.
The US has also won gold medals in other international competitions such as the FIBA World Cup (5), the Pan American Games (8) the FIBA AmeriCup(7), the Goodwill Games (3), and the World University Games (14).
Prior to the 1992 Summer Olympics, the US predominantly fielded amateur (non-NBA) basketball players at the Olympics due to the strict rules that existed at the time. All that changed in April 1989 when former FIBA Secretary General Borislav Stanković revised the rules allowing the US to field NBA players in international tournaments.
To celebrate the new dispensation, the USA assembled arguably its greatest team of all time. Dubbed the “Dream Team”, the legendary squad beat all comers by an average of 44 points per game en route to a gold medal.
The squad boasted of the likes of point guards Magic Johnson and Jon Stockton, shooting guards Michael Jordan and Clyde Drexler, small forwards Larry Bird, Scottie Pippen, and Chris Mullin, power forwards Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, and Christian Laettner, and centers, David Robinson and Patrick Ewing.
Having had success with the Dream Team template, the US constituted a second collection of its top NBA stars dubbed the “Dream Team II” which competed at and won the 1994 FIBA World Championship in an equally dominant fashion. It is worth noting that Dream Team II did not include any players from the original Dream Team.
The squad included guards Kevin Johnson, Mark Price, Steve Smith, Reggie Miller, Joe Dumars, and Dan Majerle, forwards Dominique Wilkins, Shawn Kemp, Larry Johnson, and Derrick Coleman and centers Shaquille O’Neal and Alonso mourning.
Looking to continue their success at the Summer Olympics in 1996, the US built a squad that included five original Dream Team members in Stockton, Barkley, Pippen, Robinson, and Malone. The newcomers to the squad included guards Anfernee Hardaway, Gary Payton, Reggie Miller, and Mitch Richmond, forward Grant Hill and centers Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O’Neal.
Due to the infamous NBA lockout of the 1998-99 seasons, only non-NBA players were selected to represent the US at the 1998 FIBA World Championship where they only managed a third-place finish thanks to stiff competition.
A New Generation of Stars
The 2000 Summer Olympics saw the US put up an unconvincing defense of their 1996 Olympic victory. Though the squad did manage to win the gold, it faced strong challenges from Lithuania and finals opponents France who challenged the US’ air of invincibility.
Guards Steve Smith and Gary Payton and center Alonso Mourning were the only players on the squad with any international experience. The rest of the squad was made up of guards Jason Kidd, Ray Allen, Tim Hardaway, and Allan Houston, and forwards Vince Carter, Kevin Garnett, Vin Baker, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, and Antonio McDyess.
After a triple disappointment in the 2002 and 2006 FIBA World Championships and the 2004 Summer Olympics, the US went back to the drawing board and assembled the Redeem Team that featured newcomers with the exception of guard Jason Kidd in readiness for the 2008 Summer Olympics, where the US re-established its dominance.
The squad, which is considered to be one of the best ever, included guards Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade, Chris Paul, and Michael Redd, forwards LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Tayshaun Prince, Chris Bosh, and Carlos Boozer, and center Dwight Howard.
Rather than keep their roster from the gold medal-winning 2008 Summer Olympics squad, the US looked to the future by offering up-and-coming stars a shot at glory for their 2010 FIBA World Championship campaign.
The 2010 FIBA World Championship squad included household names like guards Stephen Curry, Chauncey Billups, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, and Eric Gordon, forwards Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, Lamar Odom, Kevin Love, Rudy Gay, and Danny Granger, and center Tyson Chandler.
Other NBA players who have since won gold medals at subsequent Olympics (2012, 2016, and 2020) and FIBA World Championships (2014) include Anthony Davis, James Harden, Deron Williams, Klay Thompson, Kyrie Irving, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarcus Cousins, Kenneth Faried, Mason Plumlee, Andre Drummond, Kyle Lowry, Jimmy Butler, and Harrison Barnes.
They also include Paul George, Draymond Green, DeAndre Jordan, Jerami Grant, Bam Adebayo, Devin Booker, Jrue Holiday, Damian Lillard, Zach LaVine, Jayson Tatum, Khris Middleton, JaVale McGee, and Keldon Johnson.
Non-Americans NBA Players Who Have Won Gold Medals
Among the Non-American NBA players to win gold medals, Manu Ginóbili stands separate on account of his historic win in the 2004 Olympics. Others include brother duo Pau Gasol and Marc Gasol with one and two FIBA World Championship gold medals respectively.
Former Nets and Croatia superstar Dražen Petrović also makes this list with one FIBA World Championship gold medal and one EuroBasket gold medal, former Houston Rockets center Yao Ming with three FIBA Asia Cup gold medals, former Sacramento King, and Serbia standout Peja Stojaković with one FIBA World Championship gold medal and one EuroBasket gold medal.
Rounding off the list of players with at least a FIBA World Championship or EuroBasket gold medal are Arvydas Sabonis, Vlade Divac, Toni Kukoc, Andrei Kirilenko, Goran Dragic, Luis Scola, Ricky Rubio, Dino Radja, Dejan Bodiroga, Jose Calderon, Boris Diaw, Nikos Galis, and Predrag Danilovic.