USA Basketball’s shocking finish vs. Yugoslavia needs a deep rewind | 2002 FIBA World Championship


– We’re in Indianapolis, Indiana. It’s September 5th,
2002 and seconds remain in a FIBA World Championship
quarter final game between Yugoslavia and the United States. This is the world’s most
important international tournament outside the Olympics, basketball’s version of the World Cup. And the typically dominant
US is losing by three points. Before they attempt a final shot, we need to remember how a
presumptive basketball superpower arrived at the brink of disaster, how these guys came to
represent the host country. And similarly, we need to understand how this Yugoslavian team got here, how a changing, conflicted
world reshaped sports. We need to rewind. (mellow music) So the first thing I wanna talk about is American attendance. It’s disappointing. Conseco Fieldhouse seats 18,000 people, but has been at well under half-capacity throughout this tournament, forcing organizers to cut ticket prices. 5,300 people are here today
and as has often been the case, plenty of them are rooting
against the host country. That probably has something
to do with the attendance on the court. This is the final possession of an international elimination game and the line-up representing earth’s preeminent basketball-playing nation is Andre Miller, Reggie Miller, Paul Pierce, Jermaine O’Neal, and Antonio Davis. On one hand, coach George Karl has given this Indianapolis crowd
some Pacers to watch, so that’s nice. On the other hand, while
these are all good players, they are far from the
best America has to offer. So yeah, we need to talk through some USA basketball history. In 1989, FIBA changed its
rules to allow NBA players to participate in
international competition. This came after years of
teams like the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia skirting
the amateurs-only rule. Those countries found ways to
roster professional players, while American teams were
made of college kids. Very good college kids,
but still, actual amateurs. A rule change permitting all pros was met with some consternation from various American interests who would rather close
the loophole for others than open it for themselves. Some worried American NBA
players wouldn’t wanna play. Conversely, former USOC
president Robert Kane said it would be a sad day for the Olympics if a team like Kenya had to face Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. The rule went through, but
an NBA to Team USA pipeline wasn’t in place by the
1990 FIBA Championship. College players like Kenny
Anderson and Alonzo Mourning represented their country
in Argentina and won bronze. But by the ’92 Barcelona Olympics, Team USA hadn’t just
incorporated the NBA players, they had stirred up enough interest to attract the best NBA players. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson
didn’t play against Kenya, but they did kick off the games
by beating Angola 116 to 48. Starting with those Olympics, professionalized American dream teams bulldozed everyone everywhere. They went undefeated
for a gold medal in ’92, undefeated, gold medal at
the FIBA World Championship in ’94 in Canada, undefeated and gold at the
’96 Olympics in Atlanta. But the pipeline was beginning to thin. The 1998 FIBA Championship
happened in the middle of the NBA lock-out,
so the US sent a ragtag bunch of players from other leagues to scrap out a bronze medal in Greece. If you can name any of these people, you really know your basketball. And even after the lock-out, the 2000 team wasn’t very dreamy. Shaq and Kobe declined invites. Tim Duncan and Grant Hill were hurt. No Iverson, Malone,
Webber, the list goes on. That squad kept the
undefeated streak alive and won gold in Sydney,
but way too narrowly. The Americans had to gut out
some tough wins against France and came one rimmed-out
Lithuanian buzzer beater away from losing in the semifinal. They were so close to blowing it. If you think that near miss sparked a return of NBA
superstars to Team USA, you would be mistaken. All of these people passed on
this FIBA World Championship. Jason Kidd and Ray Allen
pulled out because of injuries. George Karl’s USA roster
came down to this. A good group of players, but I mean, the best centers are Jermaine O’Neal who’s better at power forward, and Ben Wallace who offers
basically nothing on offense. Without Allen, the best shooter is 37-year-old Reggie Miller. Without Kidd, the best point
guards are Andre Miller and Baron Davis, both light
on big game experience. These guys, Nick Collison
and Jay Williams, have yet to play pro ball at all. The top scorers are Paul Pierce who just made his first NBA all-star team and Michael Finley who’s
one of nine guys here who didn’t make it this season. So the US played multiple
games in this tournament in which one could argue the best player on the
floor wasn’t American. Germany’s Dirk Nowitzki
dropped 34 on them. China’s Yao Ming was
a very tough match-up. But it’s not just a lack of
star talent, it’s chemistry. Team Argentina employs no NBA players, at least not here in 2002. Their leading scorer is
some dude the Spurs drafted in the second round a few years ago who’s been playing in
Italy, Manu Ginobili. But on the final day of
group play, just yesterday, Manu and the gang became
the first team ever to defeat a USA squad
composed of NBA players, ending a run of 58
straight wins since ’92. It was a huge deal for
Argentina and their fans who justifiably celebrated
a convincing victory like they’d won the whole thing. Ginobili was frank about
the advantage his team had. The Argentinians practiced and developed alongside one another. They know each other, they fit together. The Americans, not so much. Teamwork defeats star power. Although I feel like if the
US just brought better stars, that wouldn’t be true. Either way, the loss didn’t diminish the Americans’ cockiness. After that historic defeat,
point guard Baron Davis said, “It’s not the medal round. “We’ll be back to win the gold.” Well, here we are in the medal round and Team USA has been shaky. Leading scorer Paul Pierce
got in foul trouble early on. Coach Karl has depended on Ben
Wallace to score in the post and as you can see, Ben
Wallace is not great at that. The US keeps wasting foul shots,
especially Jermaine O’Neal who air-balled one of his four
straight missed free throws in the fourth quarter. Honestly, this game should
already be out of reach, but Andre Miller hit a
contested bail-out three with 38 seconds left, then
tossed a gorgeous pass to hometown hero/oldest player
on the team by a long shot, Reggie Miller, who was cutting backdoor. And even after all that, defeat looms. If these guys can’t tie
the game with a three, the US won’t win any
medal, let alone a gold. After 10 years undefeated, USA basketball could
lose twice in two days. But remember, even against
kind of a JV American team, every country in this
tournament except Argentina has come up way short. So to understand this score,
we’ve got to dig deeper into these players
representing Yugoslavia, which means something very
different than it used to. Throughout the ’70s and ’80s,
Yugoslavia was right up there with the US and Soviet Union in contention for international
basketball medals. In the 1990 World Championship, that last American team of college players fell in the semifinal to
a stacked roster of pros from Yugoslavia, including a
couple who’d become NBA stars. One of those stars, Vlade
Divac, is here today, 12 years later and owned the
Americans in the first half. At 34, Divac is much older
than any of his teammates and just months removed
from his Sacramento Kings heartbreaking Western Conference
Final loss to the Lakers. But Divac is a big part of this team and taking this tournament so seriously that he’s given up smoking for the week. That’s a big deal for Vlade. Divac torched the American big men, muscling against Wallace, drawing contact against Antonio Davis, and putting the moves on Elton Brand for 16 points in the first half, not to mention his usual
slick passing to cutters. But look around and you’ll see no one else from the 1990 Yugoslavian squad. Yes, a lot of time has passed, but that’s not the only reason. After winning that ’90 FIBA gold, that team and the nation that
produced it would fracture. The Yugoslav wars, a series
of independence movements and ethnic conflicts way too complicated for me to explain in
an episode of Rewinder, led to the breakup of
a long-standing nation that had competed in
international basketball since the 1940s. Even while winning gold at
EuroBasket 1991 in Rome, the ethnically diverse
team experienced tension with one eye on the conflict at home. The war directly affected them when Jurij Zdovc withdrew from
the team before the semifinal to appease the Slavonian
independence movement. Instead of one collective
team, the ’92 Olympics included teams representing
some of now-independent former Yugoslavian constituents. Only Croatia, home to
stars like Drazen Petrovic and Toni Kukoc, competed in basketball, winning silver to the
original dream team’s gold. Notably absent in
Barcelona were the Serbians and Montenegrins from
that old Yugoslavian team. Their nations had formed a new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and were banned from
international competition because of UN sanctions
in response to the war. They missed several consecutive
international tournaments including a ’94 World Championship they were originally
supposed to host in Belgrade. The ban lasted up until
the Dayton Accords in 1995, which made that year’s EuroBasket the official return of
quote-unquote Yugoslavia, really just Serbia and Montenegro, to international basketball. It was a triumphant return. With some new blood joining
the holdover veterans, Yugoslavia won EuroBasket ’95 in an all-time great
final versus Lithuania, then two of the next
three EuroBasket golds. They won World Championship gold in 1998 and mixed in an impressive
silver medal run at the ’96 Olympics. And the second half
today has been all about the new generation, the
guys who never played for the original Yugoslavian team. Dejan Bodiroga, who helped
pioneer the dribble move Americans most closely associate with Providence College legend God Shammgod, has busted out that
very move here in Indy. A double-digit American
lead in the fourth quarter evaporated thanks to
threes from Milan Gurovic. Marko Jaric, who just
signed with the LA Clippers, has hit all four of his clutch-free
throws down the stretch. But Yugoslavia’s clear star is a player NBA fans now know well,
25-year-old Peja Stojakovic. The Kings drafted Stojakovic in 1996 and brought him over from Europe in ’98, the same year they signed Divac. After a couple years on the bench, Stojakovic broke out in 2001 as one of the best three-point
shooters in the league. This season, he made
his first all-star game, became the first European player to win the NBA’s Three-Point Contest, and yeah, might’ve won a Championship if not for the brutal, contentious finish to that Conference Final
against the Lakers. In this second half, Peja has
hit a couple of big threes, finished off a gorgeous feed
from his Kings teammate, and canned a couple important
free throws down the stretch. Peja’s leading the way,
but all of these guys will be national heroes if
they can get a stop here. So who are they stopping? It’s looking like one of the Millers. Reggie is one of the greatest
three-point shooters ever and in front of an Indiana crowd, would be the perfect
hero to send this to OT. He’s also 37 and dragging a sore ankle. The 26-year-old Andre, no relation, is best known as a passer, but he’s been the US’ best
all-around offensive player today for lack of a better option. And that really is the theme
of this ordeal, win or lose. When they were still the
only basketball superpower obeying the amateur rule, the
Americans lost now and then. When that rule came down,
they completely took over. But NBA players aren’t
showing up like they used to. And this underwhelming American squad has already suffered defeat. Now, it could happen again versus a team that bears the
same name an ’80s powerhouse, but draws from a much smaller, although still impressively
deep, pool of talent. It’s gonna come down to a Miller. The beloved but old Reggie looks like he’s gonna pass this off
to the overachieving Andre who needs a bucket to save
the US from humiliation. Let’s see what happens. Welcome to a moment in history. (crowd cheers) (announcing in a foreign language) (crowd cheers) (click)

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