Wrapping up the 2023 Basketball World Cup
Germany stunned the United States and defeated Serbia in the championship.
The International Basketball Federation, or FIBA, held their 2023 World Cup, a two week global basketball thriller, from Aug. 25 to Sept. 10. This year’s World Cup was hosted by three Asian countries — Indonesia, Japan, and the Philippines — and featured a total of 32 teams from all over the world. Cape Verde, Georgia, Latvia, and South Sudan all made their debut to the biggest international basketball stage and amazed the world with their talent.
The 2023 FIBA World Cup was full of upsets and inspirations. It also determined seven teams qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics — two spots each for the Americas and Europe and one each for Asia, Africa, and Oceania. Cape Verde and South Sudan scored historical wins for the continent of Africa, with South Sudan moving on to the 2024 Paris Olympics. Japan completed their comeback win, from once trailing by 18 points in the third period to winning 98-88, against Finland with a 17-point effort from Keisei Tominaga, who also plays for the University of Nebraska. They then fended off Cape Verde, getting their tickets to Paris next summer and recreating a Slam-Dunk (manga) moment in Okinawa, in which Japanese players hugged each other in tears and celebrated their victory to the song. While young stars such as Josh Giddey from Australia and South Sudanese player Khaman Maluach made their FIBA debut, veterans such as Italian legend Luigi Datome and Iranian great Hamed Haddadi gave everything in one last dance with their national teams.
Latvia lit things up in their first FIBA World Cup run, knocking off many European powerhouses including Spain and France in the preliminary round but falling just short against Germany in the quarter-finals. They finished their world debut with a blowout win over their Baltic brothers from Lithuania, backed by record-breaking 17 assists and zero turnovers from Arturs Zagars, clinching fifth place in the tournament. It is worth noting that a FIBA assist, unlike the National Basketball Association’s definition, only counts when the receiving player does not take any dribble before scoring a basket. Zagars’ talent to facilitate the offense and find open players has attracted attention from NBA scouts.
The United States did not bring back any medals from Asia, as they ended up in fourth place. They lost their first game 104-110 to Lithuania, who pulled off an early lead with their six-for-six firepower from downtown. Although NBA veteran Jonas Valanciunas only captured 12 points and 10 rebounds in the contest, his presence gravitated the USA defense and freed up his fellow Lithuanian shooters. The Americans, nevertheless, made their way to the semi-finals, where they were stunned by the Germans. German player Andreas Obst stepped up big-time with 24 points, including a speed-stop, ankle-breaking three-point dagger that sent USA guard Tyrese Haliburton to the ground, and helped the Germans run away with the massive win.
Germany moved on to the final and greeted Serbia in Manila. The championship game went neck to neck for the first 20 minutes, with Serbian historical leading scorer “Bogi” Bogdan Bogdanovic pushing the pace and dropping buckets against the German defense. A 22-10 run in the third quarter gave Germany some buffer, but the Serbians found their way back and inched close to a two-point deficit. Dennis Schroder, who was also clutch in the win against the USA, was just too fast for any defense to contain as he went to the rim again and again and brought Germany their first-ever FIBA gold medal. Germany proved to the world that they are a powerhouse in international basketball, and Schroder left Manila with his gold medal, the tournament’s all-star five award, and the Tissot Most Valuable Player award.
In hope of securing a medal out of the tournament, Team USA faced off against Canada in the Bronze game. The Americans demonstrated their scoring talent in the regulation; however, it was the NBA “villain” Dillon Brooks who fired efficiently from a distance and led the way for the Canadians. This certifies his embrace of his villain status after the inception of his nickname when he spoke negatively of another NBA star Lebron James and continued to make boastful statements, despite his abysmal performance in the previous NBA playoffs. The USA trailed by four as they approached the final seconds of the fourth quarter, when Brooklyn Nets star Mikal Bridges stepped onto the free throw line. He made the first shot, missed the second free throw on purpose, tracked down the offensive board, and made the game-tying three-point shot to bring the game into overtime. Nevertheless, Canada’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander took over in the extra minutes. He put up a personal 7-1 run against the USA and helped secure the bronze, the first FIBA medal collected by Canadian Men’s Basketball since 1936.
On the contrary, this is the second straight FIBA World Cup in which the USA left without a medal. This year’s result has received additional attention due to multi-title world champion and Olympic Bronze medalist Noah Lyles’ comment claiming that NBA champions should not call themselves “World Champions.” Lyles even used the U.S. flop in the FIBA World Cup to support his statement in a deleted Twitter (“X”) post. This is a question with no definitive answer at the end of the day. Some could argue that the NBA gathers the best players on the planet, making them the best team in this league and therefore “World Champions.” However, former NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo argues the contrary and provided the example of the Union of European Football Associations Champions League, which also hosts the best soccer talents in the world, but never called themselves the best in the world.
FIBA basketball goes by a different set of rules and, as official international contests instead of NBA’s commercial entertainment, is officiated differently. Declaring a team as the best of global basketball by winning a U.S. professional championship could very much be merely another instance of Americans buying into their U.S. exceptionalism. In my opinion, NBA and FIBA games are two categories of basketball that should not be compared in the same equation.
Is the USA basketball team “World Champions,” though? Well, team USA definitely did not win the most recent FIBA World Cup. However, with the American squad ending up at the fourth and team Spain eliminated early, the USA men’s basketball team is back on top of the FIBA world ranking after the tournament. They will have another chance to prove themselves as the ultimate “World Champions” next year in Paris. With future hall-of-famers LeBron James and Stephen Curry expressing interests playing for the country, this could arguably be the best USA roster we have seen in a while.