Before the 2000-2001 season, Argentine basketball never had a player in the NBA. The country didn’t qualify for the tournament at the 2000 Olympics. But by the 2002 FIBA World Championships, Argentina had enough talent to defeat the host – a U.S. team with a not-so-hot roster – before losing in the finals to Yugoslavia. And in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, it managed to win gold, in the process beating a better USA team featuring prime Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson, and an underutilized young trio of Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and LeBron James.
Basically, being from the U.S. and having lots of friends from Argentina sucked that summer, because they were rightfully going to talk shit (Also, shoutout to Puerto Rico for being the first to wreck Team USA that year).
Yes, the USA squad’s roster didn’t compare to the 1992 Dream Team, and in fact, it kind of stunk (by USA standards). But Argentina hammered home the point that a team could beat a collection of individuals. Had the USA cruised to the gold medal even after losing to Puerto Rico and Lithuania, who knows whether the necessary changes to the Olympic roster construction approach would have been made. In Return of the Gold: The Journey of Jerry Colangelo and the Redeem Team, Dan Bickley described the selection process behind the USA Men’s Sr. Team Managing Director’s 2008 Olympics squad. “Colangelo made it clear that he didn’t want an all-star team, a rotisserie team, or a team that looked good on paper. He wanted role players, chemistry, character, and heart. He wanted grit and he wanted gold,” he wrote. It sounds like what he wanted is a U.S. team that played like Argentina.
In addition to the impact on the international scene, Argentina’s rise benefited some NBA teams as well. With Luis Scola and Manu Ginóbili now out of the playoffs, it’s possible that the presence of Argentina’s golden generation of basketball in the NBA is coming to an end. If so, it’s a fitting time to look back on how these players, who found the ultimate success at the international level, fared in the Ene-be-a. These guys didn’t just have an effect on the international level. They showed the league that plenty of talent existed in Argentina, and that this country – which had no NBA footprint just four years prior to the 2004 Olympics – now had several players who could contribute in a major way.
Here’s a look at how they fared in the NBA:
The Non-NBA players
Leonardo Gutiérrez, Hugo Ariel Sconochini, Gabriel Fernández, and Alejandro Montecchia never played in the NBA. Of these four, Montecchia made the biggest contribution to the gold medal team. He was more of a creator and one of his biggest assists came when he set up Manu Ginóbili for the game-winner against Serbia and Montenegro. He also pitched in 17 points against Italy in the gold medal game.
Juan Ignacio Sánchez
Juan Ignacio Sánchez, along with Rubén Wolkowyski, is notable for cracking the door open for Albicelestes in the league. The two, playing for the Philadelphia 76ers and Seattle Supersonics, respectively, debuted on October 31, 2000, playing a total of 14 minutes combined. After an unproductive first season, he took one more crack at it in 2002. But his game just didn’t translate well enough. After that, he spent most of his career in Spain.
Rubén Wolkowyski only played in 41 NBA games (34 for the Seattle Supersonics and seven for the Boston Celtics) and those games all came before 2004. He gave Argentina size and muscle to go along with the pure skill of the other players.
Walter Herrmann didn’t make it stateside until a few years after winning Olympic gold. He made an instant impact, averaging almost 10 points per game for the Charlotte Bobcats as a rookie. He never matched that productivity again, and the Bobcats traded him to the Detroit Pistons in his second season. After his third year in the NBA, Herrmann returned to Spain. He also had great hair, and as of 2014, he could still do shit like this:
The youngest member of the gold medal-winning team and a 2003 first round draft pick by Detroit, Carlos Delfino remains the highest drafted Argentine ever. Though Delfino’s best years in the NBA didn’t come until he left Detroit, it’s clear the Pistons did better with Delfino as the 25th pick in the draft than they did with Darko Miličić as the second pick in that same draft.
In fact, developing Delfino and drafting Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, or Chris Bosh would have dramatically altered the course of the franchise that has mainly floundered since 2008. As for Delfino, a trade to Toronto followed, and then he headed to Milwaukee, where he became a solid starter for three years. It’s unfortunate that Delfino’s NBA prime didn’t come a few years later, because he would excel as a small ball power forward in today’s game if his body held up. As the baby on the team, he didn’t have much of an impact until 2008 when he averaged 14 points per game for the team that won bronze in Beijing.
Facts only: If you followed the NBA and Andrés Nocioni didn’t belong on your team, you hated his guts. Otherwise, fans probably loved him. Nocioni’s aggressive ways sometimes crossed the line, which meant he did flat-out dirty things, like this extra hard foul against Dwyane Wade. Not just a goon, Nocioni contributed as a solid bench player for most of his five seasons in the NBA, mostly with the Chicago Bulls before being traded to the Sacramento Kings. He could be relied upon for defense, scoring, and floor spacing due to his decent three-point shooting. As an added benefit, he could successfully get inside an opponent’s head. Just ask Josh Childress. Nocioni hasn’t played in the NBA since 2012, but he can definitely still play, as he’s on Real Madrid’s basketball team.
Fabricio Oberto managed to carve out a role and make himself useful to Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs. He added to his collection of gold when he won an NBA championship with his countryman Ginóbili in 2007. Though not a star, Popovich inserted him into the starting lineup for that Spurs team in game 4 of the second round, and he remained there for the rest of the playoffs, doing the dirty work to help his team sweep LeBron’s Cleveland Cavaliers. He retired in 2010 because of a heart condition, but made a brief comeback in 2013 to play for Atenas in Argentina.
Drafted in the second round by the Spurs in 2002, Luis Scola had developed into an awesome player by the time the Olympics rolled around. His size and scoring ability made him a problem for everyone, especially Italy, who couldn’t stop him at all in the final. Unfortunately for the Spurs, they weren’t able to take advantage of their brilliant draft pick because they couldn’t buy him out of his contract in Spain, so he got traded to the Houston Rockets.
He finally made his NBA debut in 2007, and his scoring immediately helped him carve out a place for himself in the league. A member of the 2007 NBA All-Rookie First Team, he peaked rapidly, as you would expect for someone entering the league at 27 years old. He averaged 18 points per game in his fourth year. After another season when he averaged 15, the Rockets traded him to Phoenix in 2012, and you could see he continued to slip. But this season he showed up to Toronto and suddenly had a three-point shot. Having never attempted more than 20 threes in one season, Scola took 161 this year and made 40 percent of them. That is truly impressive and might buy him an extra season or two as a contributor off a team’s bench. Scola also put the final disrespectful nail in Team USA’s coffin with a dunk over Richard Jefferson in the final seconds of the semifinals. Jefferson, now a member of the Cavs, is getting the last laugh.
El mero mero of Argentina’s golden generation, Manu Ginóbili led in points for Argentina at the Olympics, and his NBA résumé is incredible. Just watch the video above for some of his best dunks and passes if you need proof of his greatness. Few players could stay in front of him (even though everyone, even Drake, KNEW HE WAS GOING LEFT) and his craftiness and vision made him a threat as a scorer and playmaker. He won the NBA Championship four times, was named an NBA All-Star twice, won the NBA Sixth Man of the Year in 2008, and was named to All-NBA Third Team twice. It didn’t matter if he was a starter or the sixth man, he always played a huge role for the Spurs. Even as an old man, Ginóbili could bring that heat. It’s only a matter of time before Ginóbili is inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Ginóbili, Scola, and Nocioni will be trying to end their international careers on a high this summer by bringing the gold back to Argentina.