Looking back at San Antonio Spurs that had successful FIBA World Cups
By Josh Paredes
Derrick White is hoping to make the USA Basketball roster and join a growing list of San Antonio Spurs that have previously had successful FIBA World Cups.
As the NBA offseason continues, the eyes of the basketball world are shifting to international competition as the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup approaches on August 31. This year’s tournament will be the first to feature 32 teams instead of the previous 24 and will have the two-time defending champion Team USA at the center of attention.
San Antonio Spurs fans will have a pair of international debuts to look forward to in the tournament as Gregg Popovich will be making his international head coaching debut and Derrick White is expected to make his playing debut, assuming he makes the final roster.
While the Summer Olympics remain the golden standard for international competition, the FIBA World Cup has gained traction over its storied history and remains important towards Olympic qualifying. Since its establishment in 1950, the FIBA World Cup has brought talents from around-the-world into the spotlight including many that spent some of their careers in the Alamo City.
As everyone knows, the Spurs are no stranger to international play. With a rich history of acquiring players overseas that would become crucial to their success – most notably Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili – the Spurs have always been one of the front-runners when it comes to establishing internationally diverse rosters. Here are some of the success stories that members of the Spurs have had over the years on the FIBA stage:
Next: 1994 & 2002 World Cups
1994 FIBA World Cup – Steve Smith & Dominique Wilkins
The 1994 FIBA World Championship was the first of its kind that allowed for the participation of active NBA players. Two of these NBA stars were former Spurs Steve Smith and Dominique Wilkins.
Smith played for San Antonio from 2001-03, winning his lone NBA title with the silver and black in 2003. While playing the least amount of minutes on the national team at just over nine per game, Steve Smith would average 3.9 points and 1.6 assists in the tournament.
Dominique Wilkins, who spent the 1996-97 season with the Spurs, played a more vital role in the 1994 World Cup. Wilkins averaged 12.6 points and 3.2 rebounds over the eight-game span.
As expected, the United States would capture a gold medal at the championships, going 8-0 and defeating Russia 137-91 in the final round.
2002 FIBA World Cup – Manu Ginobili & Fabricio Oberto
While the United States would like to forget about the 2002 World Championship, Argentina made history at this tournament with the help of two players who would later become Spurs.
With a final score of 87-80, Ginobili and Oberto helped Argentina be the first team to ever defeat a United States national team that was fully composed of NBA players. The victory was a landmark event in the landscape of international basketball, as it showed everyone that the United States was no longer invincible, and the talent around the world was catching up.
Manu was fearless against the United States, driving to the basket at will and giving the blueprint for other talented teams to take advantage of an unmotivated squad. The four-time NBA champion would average 14.1 points and 3.6 assists per game in the tournament.
Fabricio Oberto was an important part of Argentina’s run as well. The 2007 champion center chipped in 13.3 points and 5.6 rebounds per game to help Argentina reach the final round against Yugoslavia. While they would suffer a tough overtime loss despite 28 points and 10 rebounds from Oberto, they would still capture the silver medal and eventually go on to even greater success at the 2004 Summer Olympics.
Next: 2006 & 2010 World Cups
2006 FIBA World Cup – Pau Gasol
While Pau Gasol’s time with in San Antonio wasn’t as successful as either side hoped, the six-time All-Star still played inspired basketball over his three-year stint with the team.
Ten years before joining San Antonio, Gasol made history with the Spanish national team at the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan. In the tournament of his life, Pau put up 21.2 points and 9.4 rebounds per game, leading Spain to its first gold at a FIBA World Championship. Despite having to sit out for the final game due to injury, Pau was named MVP of the tournament.
Team USA finished third in the championship, defeating Ginobili and Argentina in the bronze medal game.
2010 FIBA World Cup – Hedo Turkoglu & Rudy Gay
While Turkish forward Hedo Turkoglu only spent one season with the Spurs (2003-04), the sharpshooter averaged 9.2 points per game and shot 42 percent from deep that year, which led the team.
In 2010, Hedo put the Turkish national team on the map, averaging 12.3 PPG and 4.2 RPG on 41.7 percent shooting from downtown. Turkey went undefeated until the final game against the United States, which included the likes of Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and current Spur Rudy Gay. Hedo would be the only Turkish player to score in double figures in the final, putting in 16 points and 7 rebounds in the loss. He would go on to be named to the All-Tournament team.
An important member of the Spurs for the past two seasons, Rudy Gay was recently signed to play at least two more seasons with the silver and black, which was well-deserved. Gay has consistently been one of the few players on the roster that can create his own shot off-the-dribble and at 33-years-old, is still one of the more athletic players on the roster.
Before his tenure with the Spurs, Gay was a part of the last two USA FIBA basketball rosters in 2010 and 2014. Over the two tournaments, he averaged 6.5 points and 3.3 rebounds per game, and, more importantly, helped the United States win gold medals in both tournaments. 2010 was the first time the U.S. would win the gold since the 1994 tournament.
Next: 2014 World Cup
2014 FIBA World Cup – Boris Diaw & DeMar DeRozan
Throughout his five seasons with the Spurs, Boris Diaw became somewhat of a fan-favorite. His unorthodox yet effective game was on full display in the Spurs’ latest championship run, but that wasn’t the only success the Frenchman enjoyed that year. Less than three months after winning the NBA title with San Antonio, Boris averaged over nine points and close to five rebounds per game for the French national team in the 2014 tournament.
Despite missing their star in Tony Parker, France still finished third, earning the bronze behind the gold medalists United States and silver medalists Serbia.
More from Air Alamo
- San Antonio Spurs: Four trade partners to watch for as deadline nears
- Predicting Spurs’ week 9 results, featuring trap games abound
- San Antonio Spurs: Jakob Poeltl reasserting himself as a defensive force
- San Antonio Spurs: Trading for John Collins still a longshot for Spurs
- Spurs’ opponents are making unfortunate history at ATT Center
Similar to what Parker did that summer, DeMar DeRozan recently announced he’ll be withdrawing from the USA roster to focus on the upcoming season with the Spurs. In 2014 however, the four-time All-Star joined other NBA stars like James Harden, Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving and the aforementioned Rudy Gay to give the United States their fifth world championship. DeMar scored 43 points across the nine-game tournament.
Spurs fans will have a few reasons to observe the upcoming tournament closely, as Derrick White is looking to make the final roster headed for China. With White breaking out in round one of the playoffs last year, representing team USA will work wonders to improve his confidence and skill set even more.
Gregg Popovich will also be on the radar for Spurs fans, as he looks to improve his resumé of international play. The three-time NBA Coach of the Year was previously an assistant coach on the 2002 team that finished a disappointing sixth place, as well as the 2004 Olympic team that finished in third.
Now as head coach, Popovich will be expected to lead the United States to another gold come September.