U.S. Olympic Basketball Team Wins Gold in Berlin – August 14, 1936
Americans Win First Olympic Basketball Competition.
Basketball made its debut as an Olympic sport at the 1936 Games in Berlin. On August 14, 1936, the U.S. won the Gold Medal, defeating Canada 19-8. The championship game was played outdoors in similar fashion to all the other basketball games of the Berlin Olympics. The “Master Olympic Planners” hadn’t gotten the memo that basketball was an indoor sport. They set the games on a clay tennis court, which made for less than ideal conditions. On the day of the gold medal round, it not only rained, it poured.
The U.S. began with a forfeit victory over Spain, whose team had been called home because of the start of the Spanish civil war. The Universal players trounced Estonia 52-28 in the second round, and the McPherson platoon followed with a 56-23 victory over the Philippines. A 25-10 U.S. triumph over Mexico in the semifinals set up a gold medal encounter between Naismith’s native Canada and his adopted U.S. Unfortunately, it turned out to be what Balter later described as “a priceless bit of Chaplinesque comedy.”
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The AP noted that “the game might have been better played had it been played under water polo rules”.
Basketball’s inventor, Dr. James Naismith attended the 1936 Olympics. The Boston Globe reported that “he made the trip on funds provided by American basketball fans.” However, Naismith was not exactly treated like a guest of honor by the American Olympic Committee, headed by Avery Brundage. Apparently, Naismith arrived in Berlin without even a pass to see a game. The International Basketball Federation showed the old professor a little more respect. He was given the honor of tossing up the ball for the tip off of the very first Olympic basketball game, between Estonia and France (won by Estonia 34-29). Also at the end of the competition it was Naismith who handed out the medals to winning teams.