Issue 105: 3 Amazing Basketball Olympics Moments

Over the past week or so, the topic of the Olympics has come up in a handful of conversations. It usually goes like this:

Me: “Have you been watching the Olympics?”

Them: “Nope. I didn’t realize they were on!”

Occasionally, the person will say they watched the skateboarding conversation or caught a swim meet or two, but that’s pretty much it.

Side note: I’m STILL exhausted from watching Katie Ledecky and Erica Sullivan get gold and silver, respectively, in the 1500m freestyle. Nothing like more than 15 minutes of straight swimming with no breaks at all!

There hasn’t been as much fanfare around this year’s Olympics. Fans can’t attend because, you know, we’re still dealing with a pandemic. It’s also a little wonky to see “Olympics 2020” during the second half of 2021. Heck, the biggest conversation hasn’t been around an athlete’s performance, it’s been about Simone Biles shining a much-needed light on mental health.

Still, it’s cool to see Olympians reach their dreams. And that includes basketballers going wild and helping their countries reach glory.

These three are some magical moments from Olympics basketball history. Note I’m specifically highlighting individual plays or performances, so something like the 1992 Dream Team making basketball fun again or the 1996 women’s U.S. team paving the way for the WNBA to succeed doesn’t count, as awesome as both of those were.

Vince Carter leaping over Frédéric Weis with the “Dunk of Death”

There are some things in life I know I will never be able to achieve.

Jumping over a seven-footer and dunking a basketball is one of those “ain’t gonna happen” moments. But that’s okay, because we can always watch Vince Carter do it.

During the 2000 Olympics, Carter stole a pass and went toward the basket with a full head of steam. He was met by Frédéric Weis, a 7’2” French player who missed the memo that 2000 Vince Carter was perhaps the greatest dunker ever.

As you likely know, things didn’t end well for Weis. Carter jumped over him entirely as he slammed the ball home.

Obviously, the dunk is spectacular. No one is doubting that. But all the reactions are great, too. Kevin Garnett comes over to give some props and nearly gets accidentally punched in the face while Carter is celebrating. Vin Baker makes a face like “oh, that was NASTY” and Gary Payton offers a lil’ flex, too.

Meanwhile, poor Weis is just looking around like he wants to crawl into a whole. The video shows the subsequent possession for France and Weis seems entirely lost. He sets a screen with his back at one point and looks like he takes a hard elbow to it, which hurts like the dickens.

France ultimately won the silver medal that year, but there really is nothing you can do after a dunk like that except just hope enough time passes. And Weis has had some struggles since his playing days, though they’re largely for reasons outside of basketball and the “dunk of death,” as Carter’s jam was named.

This play is the ONE occasion where I will allow a bounce pass that is not crisp to be thrown. Because if France didn’t try to get all fancy — or “Francy,” as small regions of Paris call it — we may well have never seen this dunk.

Australia’s Liz Cambage Makes History

During the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Australia and Russia matched up during pool play. The game was going along as many do, except we saw something midway through the third quarter that had never been seen before.

Australia’s Liz Cambage took a pass at the top of the key, dribbled toward the bucket, and slammed the ball. It was the first-ever dunk by a woman in Olympic competition.

Becky Hammon (#9 on Russia) briefly goes for a strip of the ball before wisely realizing “nah, I don’t have a chance, better just not be in the way.” I admire that self-realization.

Unfortunately, we don’t get nearly as many angles of the celebration here, but I like how excited all the other Aussies are. This is a cool moment and they’re hyped up, even if Cambage’s reaction is “this is just another Friday for me.”

Australia wound up winning the bronze that year, with Cambage playing a major role.

Kobe Bryant’s Will to Win in Beijing

The 2008 U.S. Olympics squad was called the “Redeem Team” because the 2004 team won a bronze medal. And here in ‘MURRICA, we only win golds or we don’t win anything and all.

(That’s not true. Winning any medal is a fantastic achievement. But U.S. basketball does tend to dominate so a non-gold in 2004 was surprising.)

During the 2008 championship game against Spain, the U.S. jumped out to an early lead. However, that lead evaporated in the second half and with about eight minutes left in the fourth quarter, the U.S. only had a 91-89 lead.

The U.S. had a ton of NBA players, sure, but so did the Spaniards. They trotted out the likes of Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, Juan Carlos Navarro, Rudy Fernández, José Calderón and a super young Ricky Rubio, all of whom played in the NBA, too.

None of that mattered to Kobe Bean Bryant.

Bryant scored 13 of his 20 points in the fourth, and connected on some clutch passes — to Deron Williams for a three and Dwight Howard for a dunk — to add to his game-high six assists.

My favorite part of the scoring and passing barrage is Bryant hitting a three-pointer while getting fouled.

Unlike today’s NBA, where a player will fall down if a slight gust of wind connects with their fingertips, Bryant stands up tall, takes the foul, and then holds a finger up to his lips, silently telling the crowd it’s over. There’s literally nothing cooler you can do in that moment.

I remember watching this game in college with a group of friends. We were all very nervous but then Kobe started doing Kobe things and we were like “It’s okay, fellow collegiate students. The U.S. is going to win.” And it was a really terrific time.

That’s all ’til next time. Thanks for reading!


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