The Olympics is the pinnacle, the summit of sports competition. Wearing their country’s colors in the quadrennial event is possibly the proudest moment of any athlete. Competing with the best in the sport is also a great source of motivation. Speaking of “the best competing in their sport,” do NBA players play in the Olympics?
The answer is yes, they do, but that wasn’t always the case. But since NBA players were allowed to play in the Olympics, they have won all the gold medals except one. Many may think it’s unfair to let these guys play, but in recent years, the competition has actually gotten better, especially from Europe. One of these days, don’t be surprised if somebody other than the United States wins the gold medal.
Are NBA Players Allowed to Play in the Olympics?
Yes, NBA players are allowed to play in the Olympics and in FIBA events. But, as mentioned, that wasn’t always the case. Professional basketball players are not allowed to play; only the ones with amateur status are given the green light to play in FIBA and Olympic competitions.
Back then, the American basketball players in the Olympics were all college players. That’s the same way with other countries. Allowing NBA players to represent their countries in the Olympics has changed the competition forever, mainly for the better.
When Did NBA Players Begin Competing in the Olympics?
NBA players were allowed to play beginning in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. The real question, though, is, “why can NBA players play in the Olympics?” What prompted the change and what led to it?
Well, some stories say it was because of the loss suffered by the United States at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. As per usual, their delegation consisted of college players and ended up losing to the Soviet Union in the semifinals. They beat Australia in the bronze medal match.
What many didn’t consider was, at least at the time, the USA was already sending great teams. Of course, the NBA players were better, but it’s not like they were represented by scrubs. In 1988 alone, the team included David Robinson, Mitch Richmond, and Dan Majerle, guys who went on to become multiple All-Stars. The other players were no pushovers themselves. Stacey Augmon and Danny Manning were part of that team and carved decent NBA careers for themselves.
Many in the media assumed that the decision to make NBA players eligible was motivated by American basketball officials’ anger at the loss and the desire to regain their status as the top basketball nation in the world.
Of course, that made sense, but many failed to realize that it wasn’t really the United States who pushed for the change; it was FIBA secretary general Boris Stankovic who did. At the time, the United States basketball officials even voted against it. They were okay with amateurs representing the United States.
Why would Stankovic want a rule change? Well, during those years, professional basketball players from other leagues were permitted to play in the Olympics; only NBA players were banned. Brazil’s Oscar Schmidt was a pro in Italy at the time and continued to represent his home country in international competitions. Stankovic thought it was unfair and reasoned that if other pro basketball players could play, no one should stop NBA players from playing in the Olympics, too.
In time, the rules were passed after international basketball executives voted in favor of Stankovic’s proposal. Why would they change the system that would ultimately make it harder for anyone else to win a gold medal? The answer is simple. Everyone wanted the best to compete, and in doing so, improvement inevitably comes with it.
Stankovic reasoned: “Our competition was closed to the NBA players, but no one else. That seems immoral. The second is very simple. Our feeling is that only by playing with the best players in the world can everyone else make progress. If you are from another country and you can run a race against Carl Lewis, maybe you don’t have a chance. But you still want to run.”
Because of Stankovic’s long-term vision and the quest for fairness, basketball fans are eventually treated to quality basketball. The NBA has benefited from international exposure and vice versa. What’s more, even though the United States has won every Olympic tournament except 2004, other countries have improved by leaps and bounds.
Do NBA Players Play in USA Olympic Team?
Yes, NBA players play on the USA Olympic team. Not only that, NBA players hailing from other countries are allowed to represent their native homeland as well. This is a change from a previous ruling prohibiting NBA players from playing for the United States and any other country.
Are NBA Players Paid to Play in the Olympics?
The issue of whether NBA players in the Olympics are getting paid is a thorny one. As a general rule today, Olympic athletes, including NBA players, are not paid to play in the Olympics. In the case of NBA players playing for the United States, they are paid per diem by USAB. There are monetary rewards for earning medals, but in the case of the millionaires in the NBA, those are merely chump changes for them.
Here’s the rub: The Dream Team in 1992 and the Olympics basketball team in 1996 apparently pocketed some of the money from the sponsorships that the USAB makes from these events. That is why it became a big issue in 2000 when players learned they were no longer getting paid, as did the two previous teams.
Ray Allen, a member of the gold-winning team in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, was upset that the original Dream Team members and the team that won a gold medal in Atlanta in 1996 were financially compensated.
Karl Malone, a member of two gold-medal-winning teams in 1992 and 1996, admitted that the original Dream Team split more than a million dollars between them. The 1996 squad also got paid. The former Utah Jazz power forward thought paying the NBA stars would attract even more attention for the United States and should allow the USAB to field the most competitive team possible.
What NBA Players Have Played in the Olympics?
There are literally hundreds of NBA players that have played in the Olympics since 1992. In the Tokyo Olympics alone, 49 NBA players from 12 countries have taken the floor. These players include:
- Kevin Durant
- Bam Adebayo
- Devin Booker
- Jerami Grant
- Draymond Green
- Jrue Holiday
- Keldon Johnson
- Zach Lavine
- Damian Lillard
- JaVale McGee
- Khris Middleton
- Jayson Tatum
- Joe Ingles
- Patty Mills
- Matisse Thybulle
- Rudy Gobert
- Nicolas Batum
- Evan Fournier
- Luka Doncic
- Mo Wagner
- Danilo Gallinari
- Rui Hachimura
- Willy Hernangomez
5 NBA Players With Most Olympic Medals
Indeed, the United States has always been the king of the hardcourt, even before the NBA players were allowed to represent their countries. As soon as the go-signal was given, the United States was always the favorite and every tournament was theirs to lose. Here are the players who won the most medals for their team, a testament to their commitment and dedication to their country:
1. Carmelo Anthony
Olympic Melo was a different beast. He is the first player to be a four-time Olympian and the first to win four medals– three of which were gold. In fact, Anthony had more basketball gold medals than any other country except the United States! Melo won gold for the 2008, 2012, and 2016 Olympic teams and was also a member of the bronze medal-winning squad in 2004.
2. Kevin Durant
KD was teammates with Melo in the gold medal-winning national teams in 2012 and 2016, and added one more in 2020. If KD is healthy enough to play in 2024, he would have one-upped Anthony in the gold medal department and will possibly be recognized as the most bemedalled NBA player in the Olympics. He is averaging almost 20 PPG in a US uniform and is the all-time leader for points in Team USA history.
3. Michael Jordan
MJ’s name is always equated to winning in the NBA, and that’s also the case in the Olympics. Jordan actually represented the US as a college player in 1984. Then, he headlined the 1992 Dream Team alongside the most prominent names of basketball, but none bigger than his own. Jordan averaged 16 PPG for Team USA and has never lost in any international competition, Olympics included.
4. Charles Barkley
Many people forgot that Charles Barkley, and not Michael Jordan, led the Dream Team in scoring. The Round Mound of Rebound averaged 18 PPG and was possibly the most destructive offensive force in all of basketball from 1992-1996. Barkley also did not lose any of these Olympic Games and averaged 12.4 PPG on over 80% shooting in 1996.
5. Kobe Bryant
Bryant was the unquestioned emotional leader of the 2008 Olympic team, also known as the Redeem Team. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were workhorses, but when push comes to shove, that team turned to the Black Mamba when it mattered the most. He also never lost in international competition and was 16-0 in the Olympics.
Wrapping Things Up: Do NBA Players Play in the Olympics?
The Olympic games are the world’s biggest sporting event where the best of the best gather and compete against each other. But that wasn’t the case, at least in basketball, for the most part. All professional basketball players may don their country’s colors, but for some reason, NBA players were not allowed to.
So, when did NBA players start playing in the Olympics? They were allowed to play only in 1992 after a significant rule change championed by FIBA secretary general Boris Stankovic. Stankovic thought it was unfair that professional basketball players like Oscar Schmidt were allowed to play in the Olympics, but the NBA players were not. Stankovic reasoned that by allowing NBA players to play, the level of competition rises, and other countries will improve from this experience.
True enough, allowing NBA players in the Olympics brought a lot of excitement. It also brings much anticipation, as most people would love to see other countries slay the giants, so to speak. Even though the United States only failed to capture the gold medal once and lost only four times in 64 games (across eight tournaments), the improvement from other teams is undeniable.
To sum everything up, “Do NBA players play in the Olympics?” Yes, they do. That was not the case before 1992, but thanks to a forward-thinking international basketball executive, basketball fans can now enjoy watching the best of the best battle it out for supremacy.
We hope you enjoyed this post! If you did, be sure to check out our other basketball FAQ articles here.