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History of Lakers In the Olympics
Heading into the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, Jose Calderon and Marcelo Huertas will continue a legacy of Lakers performing on international basketball’s greatest stage.
While some had not yet played for the Lakers before participating in the Olympics (and thus not officially representing the purple and gold), many — including legends like Jerry West, Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant — made Los Angeles proud with their contributions at the Games.
Over the last 56 years, 10 different Lakers have played for their country in search for gold.
Jerry West — USA (Rome 1960)
Four months after being drafted by the Minneapolis Lakers, 22-year-old Jerry West became the franchise’s first Olympian before beginning his rookie season. Because only amateurs were allowed to compete at the time, West was eligible to represent West Virginia University, where he had just completed a two-time All-American career.
Selected as co-captain alongside Oscar Robertson, West averaged 14.3 points in Rome to help the Americans to an 8-0 record with an average margin of victory of 42.4. The team — which also featured Jerry Lucas and Walt Bellamy — was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame as a unit in 2010.
West — who had helped the USA to gold at the Pan American Games the year before — went on to forge his own Hall-worthy career in Los Angeles by earning 14 All-Star selections in as many seasons.
Walt Hazzard — USA (Tokyo 1964)
The Lakers made Walt Hazzard the No.1 pick of the 1964 NBA Draft, and he returned to Los Angeles with a gold medal six months later. Hazzard, who was coming off a championship and All-American season at UCLA, averaged only 3.8 points in Tokyo, never scoring more than seven.
However, he and his teammates — including Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown — enjoyed plenty of easy victories, including against Uruguay (83-28) and South Korea (116-50). In the gold-medal match, they defeated the previously unbeaten Soviet Union, 73-59.
Hazzard spent the first three seasons of his pro career in L.A., where he averaged 9.4 points before being selected by Seattle in the 1967 expansion draft.
Magic Johnson — USA (Barcelona 1992)
Almost a year removed from an abrupt retirement due to his contraction of HIV, Magic Johnson joined the greatest basketball team in the history of the sport.
With a roster that featured 10 fellow Hall of Famers — Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Clyde Drexler and Chris Mullin — Johnson and the Dream Team were unbeatable.
They won every game by an average of 43.8 points, and the closest match — for the gold medal against Croatia — was still a 117-85 rout.
A knee injury limited Johnson’s playing time and kept him sidelined for two games. However, he was effective when on the floor, averaging 8.0 points and 5.5 assists. He dished out 10 assists in the USA’s 68-point opening victory over Angola and scored double figures in each of his last three games.
After the U.S. had been saddled with bronze in the 1998 Seoul Games, Johnson and his fellow Americans certainly made a statement in the first Olympics that allowed professionals to compete. In 2010, the five-time champion and the rest of the squad were inducted into the Hall of Fame as a team.
Shaquille O’Neal— USA (Atlanta 1996)
A free agent in the buildup to the 1996 Games, Shaquille O’Neal signed with the Lakers just two days before the tournament tipped off.
The 24-year-old joined a roster featuring five members of the Dream Team — Barkley, Malone, Stockton, Pippen and Robinson — and four more future Hall of Famers — Hakeem Olajuwon, Gary Payton, Reggie Miller and Mitch Richmond.
O’Neal, who had earned MVP honors for leading the U.S. to gold at the FIBA World Championship two years before, averaged 9.3 points and 5.3 rebounds in Atlanta, while picking up two double-doubles. However, he hardly played in the 95-69 gold-medal victory over Serbia and Montenegro — which featured Vlade Divac, who had been traded just weeks before for future Olympian Kobe Bryant.
Of course, O’Neal and Bryant went on to form a dynasty in Los Angeles, winning three championships together. O’Neal —a 2016 Hall of Famer — earned seven of his 15 All-Star honors as a member of the Lakers.
Lamar Odom— USA (Athens 2004)
Despite a loaded roster that featured Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, the 2004 U.S. National Team has been deemed by many as the country’s biggest basketball disappointment.
The team also included Lamar Odom, whom the Lakers acquired from Miami in a trade for O’Neal earlier that summer. Odom averaged 9.3 points and 5.8 rebounds, but the Americans went just 5-3, lost by 19 in the opener against Puerto Rico and left Greece with only a bronze medal to show.
Still, Odom delivered his country gold six years later by leading the U.S. in rebounding during its championship run at the 2010 FIBA World Championships in Istanbul. He also enjoyed a successful tenure with the Lakers, winning two titles and the 2011 Sixth Man of the Year award.
Sun Yue — China (Beijing 2008)
Days after signing with the Lakers, Sun Yue faced his future teammate, Bryant, in his first game of the 2008 Olympics. The Americans won handily, as Sun and China went on to finish with a 2-4 record.
Sun averaged 6.8 points for a team that featured fellow NBA players Yao Ming (19.0 ppg, 8.2 rpg) and Yi Jianlian (9.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg). Sun later played for China at the London 2012 Olympics and helped his country to pairs of gold medals at both the FIBA Asia Championship and the Asian Games.
Prior to joining the Lakers, Sun spent six years with the aptly named Beijing Olympians. His NBA career was brief, making only 10 appearances for Los Angeles in 2008-09, and he returned to the Olympians until the team disbanded in 2013. He currently plays for the Beijing Ducks, which he has helped to two CBA titles.
Pau Gasol — Spain (Beijing 2008)
With Pau Gasol paving the way, Spain pushed the United States to the verge of defeat in Beijing. Gasol scored 21 points in the gold-medal game, helping trim the Americans’ lead to just one in the fourth quarter. However, led by Bryant, the U.S. managed to survive with a 118-107 victory.
Gasol was one of the most dominant players in China, leading the entire field in scoring (19.6), while ranking fifth in both rebounding (7.0) and blocks (1.1). With brother Marc Gasol, Jose Calderon and Rudy Fernandez in tow, Pau helped Spain to a 6-2 record, with its only losses coming from the USA.
Gasol put on a few shows en route to a silver medal, dropping 31 points against Angola and recording a 20-point, 10-rebound double-double versus Croatia.
Kobe Bryant — USA (Beijing 2008)
With eight minutes left and a gold medal on the line, the United States led Spain by only two points. Then, reigning MVP Kobe Bryant took over.
He scored 13 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter alone, leaving the Spaniards with no answer for his twisting drives or 3-point swishes. Toward the end of the game, he even completed a four-point play and famously put his finger to his lips, symbolically quieting Spain’s rally.
Years later, Mike Krzyzewski said that, if it weren’t for Bryant’s clutch performance, he wouldn’t have remained coach of the national team after Beijing. Coming off of a bronze finish in Athens, anything less than gold would have been a disappointment for the Redeem Team, which returned James and Anthony, while adding superstars like Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul.
Bryant added six assists in the 118-107 win over Spain and also contributed steadily over the course of the tournament, averaging 15.0 points and 2.1 assists. He also led all players with 25 points in a quarterfinals win over Australia.
The Americans crushed their opponents by an average of 27.9 points on their way to the title. For Bryant, who lost in the NBA Finals just two months before, it was an opportunity to start adding some hardware before winning the next two championships.
Pau Gasol — Spain (London 2012)
For the second straight Olympics, Pau Gasol powered his team to the gold-medal match and, once again, dominated on the way there. Gasol ranked fourth among all players in scoring (19.1), sixth in rebounds (7.6) and seventh in blocks (1.1), while also leading Spain in assists (2.9).
This time around, he had an arguably better supporting cast that returned Marc Gasol and Calderon, while adding Serge Ibaka and Victor Claver.
Pau stood out among the stars, notching three double-doubles, including in both the quarterfinals and semifinals. He shined with gold on the line as well, tallying 24 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, though the Spaniards once again fell to the U.S., 107-100.
By this time, Gasol had already asserted himself as a star on the Lakers, having won two championships and earned three of his six All-Star honors in Los Angeles.
Gasol also made his case as the greatest player in his national team’s history, having led his country to back-to-back Olympic silver medals, in addition to three EuroBasket golds and one FIBA World Cup title. Four years later, he helped Spain to bronze at the Rio Games by ranking fourth in scoring (19.5) and leading all players in rebounds (8.9).
Kobe Bryant — USA (London 2012)
At 34 years old, Kobe Bryant found himself the elder statesman in 2012 and made sure to give his teammates some shine by saying that this edition of the U.S. National Team could have defeated the 1992 Dream Team.
It certainly had little trouble beating its Olympic competition, going 8-0 with a 32.1-point margin of victory. Bryant stepped back and let the younger Americans — like James, Anthony, Paul, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook — into the spotlight, as the U.S. trailed only once in the fourth quarter of any game.
Bryant averaged only 9.0 points during pool play but stepped up in the knockout stages, starting by leading his team with 20 points in a 119-86 quarterfinals win over Australia. Despite going scoreless in the first half, the Laker reached his total by knocking down six 3-pointers in a row.
He also provided 11 of his 13 points in the first quarter of a semifinals rout over Argentina and scored 17 to help the U.S. capture gold with a 107-100 victory in a rematch with Spain.
Jose Calderon — Spain (Rio de Janeiro 2016)
One month after being traded to the Lakers, Jose Calderon played in his fourth Olympics for the Spanish National Team and left Rio with a bronze medal. The 34-year-old rarely came off the bench, averaging 2.2 points and 0.6 assists in only 5.1 minutes per game.
Calderon's top performance was a six-point effort in Spain's win over Argentina, and he didn't suit up for a semifinals loss to Team USA or a bronze victory over Australia. This latest medal made his trophy case a bit more crowded, as he was key in Spain's run to silver in both 2008 and 2012. He also helped his team to gold at the 2006 World Championship and 2011 European Championship.
Marcelo Huertas — Brazil (Rio de Janeiro 2016)
Sao Paulo’s Marcelo Huertas did about all he could for the host nation at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, averaging 6.6 assists — the third-most of any player at the tournament. "Marcelinho" saved his best effort for the end, briefly delaying his team's elimination by racking up 12 points and 11 assists in its victory in the finale over Nigeria. However, his individual success did not always translate into victories, as Brazil went 2-3, dropping two games in the final minutes.
As captain, Huertas did come through in Brazil's upset over No. 2 Spain, tallying 11 points and seven assists — both of which were team-highs. In the Nigeria game, he scored 10 points in the final six minutes to keep his side alive until it was knocked out via tiebreakers later in the day.
Huertas also represented Brazil in London at the 2012 Games, where he averaged 11.3 points and 6.0 assists. In the past, he helped his country to two gold medals at the FIBA Americas Championship, plus one apiece at the Pan American Games and South American Championship.
Mitch Kupchak — USA (1976 Montreal)
Twenty-four years before he took over as general manager of the Lakers, Mitch Kupchak donned red, white and blue and came home with gold. Kupchak averaged 12.5 points and 5.7 rebounds for an American team that went 7-0 behind Hall of Famer Adrian Dantley, who led the way with 19.3 points per game.
Kupchak stepped up in the final round, scoring 14 points to help deliver a 95-74 win over Yugoslavia. He followed his time in Montreal by winning the title in 1978 with the Washington Bullets and in 1985 with the Lakers. As L.A.’s GM, he has guided the construction of four championship-winning rosters.
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