The first nation to qualify for the 2016 Olympic men’s basketball tournament will be the champion of the FIBA World Cup, which begins Saturday and runs through Sept. 15.
The U.S. is favored, having won the Olympics in 2008 and 2012 and the FIBA World Cup (then the World Championships) in 2010. Host Spain is its biggest competition.
Brazil, as the Olympic host nation, automatically has a spot in the 12-team Olympic basketball tournament.
If the U.S. does not prevail, it will have a second chance to clinch a spot in Rio at next year’s FIBA Americas Championship. This safety net was necessary for the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympics. The U.S. lost the preceding World Championships each of those times but won the FIBA Americas Championship.
A possible third chance would come in the World Olympic Qualifying Tournament one month before the Rio Games.
So, a defeat in Spain should cause no worry about the U.S.’ Olympic hopes. In fact, one could consider this stat: four out of 16 winners of the FIBA World Championships preceding the Olympics went on to win Olympic gold.
What about the makeup of the 2016 U.S. Olympic roster? Recent history dictates that 12-man team will include about half of the men on the FIBA World Cup squad.
Five members of the U.S. team at the 2010 FIBA World Championships made it on the 2012 U.S. Olympic roster — Tyson Chandler, Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook.
Six members of the U.S. team at the 2006 FIBA World Championships made it on the 2008 U.S. Olympic roster — Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade.
And one member of the U.S. team that finished a forgettable sixth at the 2002 FIBA World Championships in Indianapolis made it on the 2004 U.S. Olympic roster — Shawn Marion.