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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Basketball: Great Past but Non-Starters in '96

Soviet basketball coach Alexander Gomelsky had a dream. He wanted to face the best American team. And win.


Gomelsky may very well go down in history as the last non-American coach to guide his team to an Olympic title, when he led the Soviet men's basketball team to the gold medal in Seoul, Korea, in 1988, but that was not the best American team, as the world was soon to see.


The 1988 U.S. Olympic defeat was the direct forerunner of the United States turning to the professional National Basketball Association for players, resulting in the invincible "Dream Team" that swept the field in 1992.


So perhaps the world should thank the Soviets for the Dream Team, as everything has been downhill for Soviet and then Russian basketball since the 1988 gold medal.


For the first time in Soviet-CIS-Russian history, its men's basketball team did not qualify for the Games, finishing in seventh place at the 1995 European Championships in Athens.


This latest failure, which cost coach Sergei Belov his job, was especially disappointing for the Russians who though they would have a good shot at a medal in Atlanta after they won second place behind the Dream Team II at the World Championships in Toronto in 1994.


Ever since the Soviet basketball team made its Olympic debut in 1952 in Helsinki, it had never failed to win a medal until the 1992 Barcelona games, where it finished fourth, winning two golds, four silvers and three bronzes in the process.


To many American fans, the absence of Soviet and other communist nations that year had little or no effect on the outcome of the men's basketball tournament.


In the 1972 Munich Games the Soviet Union won a controversial gold medal game against the U.S. team 51-50, scoring the last two points on the final play as time ran out after the referee put three seconds back on the clock following a Soviet protest. U.S. bitterness over the disputed game has lingered as the Americans failed to appear for the medals ceremony.


In 1984, the Soviet team had many of the players that four years later defeated the Americans, who had future NBA stars David Robinson, Danny Manning and Dan Majerle in the lineup, in the Olympic semifinal, 82-76.


The Soviets also beat the Americans in the final of the 1982 World Basketball Championships 86-82 in Columbia two years before the L.A. Olympics, but there is no point in arguing over something that never came about. Like the best Russians facing the Dream Team.


"I truly believe that if we could get all of our best players from the former Soviet Union and put them all together like I did in 1988, we would beat the Dream Team," Gomelsky said.


But, as they say, talk is cheap.