Exactly 100 years ago, Canadian men’s basketball began its journey in international competitions, hoping to earn the distinguished title of the greatest basketball country in the world.
Today, the Summer Olympics remains one of the largest all-sport international competitions in the world for athletes in most sports, and it’s the same for men’s basketball: the gold medal is the quintessential symbol of triumph and hard work. The Canadian men’s basketball team has only medalled once at the Olympics, with a silver medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. While Canadian legends such as Steve Nash or Rick Fox attained noteworthy success for their teams in the NBA, this success failed to translate into their international duties.
Yet the recent ascendancy of the team in the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) World Cup, where Canada won the bronze medal — their first time finishing on the podium at the tournament — has suddenly accelerated the belief that a gold medal is a genuine possibility at the 2024 Paris Olympics.
The 2023 FIBA World Cup
Announced in 2020, the 2023 FIBA World Cup has been one of the central ways to qualify for the Paris Olympics, where nations compete against each other to ultimately win the tournament but also to earn Olympic qualification. The highest-ranking two teams from the Americas during the FIBA World Cup automatically qualify for the Olympics, meaning that Canada would need to outplay countries like Mexico, Argentina, and of course, the United States — all squads with rich and successful basketball history. Yet, currently, there are 22 Canadians on NBA rosters, which is the largest number of any country besides the US, so it’s undeniable that the level of pure basketball talent within the Canadian team rivals any of the favourites for the Olympics.
The Canadian team’s endless pursuit to dethrone the US men’s basketball team — who have won four straight Olympic gold medals — was invigorated when Canada beat the US to take the bronze medal at the FIBA World Cup. Although somewhat insignificant compared to the Olympics, this win proved to many Canadian players and fans that they belonged on the same stage as their southern neighbours.
Led by superstar point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who finished the game with 31 points and 12 assists, Canada cemented their ticket to Paris by finishing as the best performing team from the Americas. With guards like RJ Barrett, Luguentz Dort, and Dillon Brooks accompanying Gilgeous-Alexander to France, it’s evident that Canada finally bears a complete and unified team filled with star players.
The 2024 Paris Olympics
The 2024 Paris Olympics is the first real shot the Canadian team has had in over 20 years to bring prosperity to their country. The team last played in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Superstars like Nash have battled hard to qualify for previous games but to little avail.
It’s not as if the team has lacked the talent to compete with other dominating teams. So why is the team succeeding now?
Team Canada’s recent success is grounded in a collective three-year commitment that players signed in May 2022 with each other and the country’s basketball federation. The commitment erased any possibility of the players unexpectedly backing out while allowing the team to primarily focus on developing their chemistry for future tournaments. Additionally, this created a more serious outlook on the program, introducing a newfound sense of urgency that had been severely lacking in previous years. This announcement conveyed a win-now mentality that stimulated the team’s recent success at the FIBA World Cup.
Other Canadian stars like Andrew Wiggins and Jamal Murray chose not to play at the FIBA World Cup, but if they pledge to join the squad in Paris next summer, their announcements will bring unparalleled excitement to the nation. Only time will tell if this newfound commitment will result in actual success. However, for Canadian basketball fans, it’s difficult to hide the excitement of a possible gold medal, especially as the 2024 Paris Olympics draw nearer.