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Argentina 1950 World Cup winners
03/11/2020
News
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On this day 70 years ago: Argentina win the inaugural FIBA Basketball World Cup

MIES (Switzerland) - Seven decades ago to the day, Argentina captured the first ever FIBA Basketball World Cup crown on home soil in Buenos Aires on November 3, 1950.

And as one could imagine, it was a very different time.

Just five years on from the end of World War II, international basketball was nothing like it is now, in the modern era. If sport is a part of the daily fabric in 2020, in the fifties it was more like a much needed distraction for people enduring tough times.

How did the FIBA Basketball World Cup come about?

The first FIBA Secretary General, William Jones, witnessed firsthand how basketball could help the world move on from the war. He saw this at the London Olympics in 1948 - the first major sporting event of the post-war era - as fans cheered wildly for the basketball teams.

William Jones, FIBA's first Secretary General from 1932 to 1976

London had been devastated by bombings and was, symbolically, the ideal place to stage a Summer Games. Countries' premier athletes and the fans themselves welcomed the opportunity to start anew. If grim photos of war wreckage had been the order of their day, they gave way to triumphant pictures of sportsmen and women.

The Olympic Basketball Tournament had a whopping 23 teams. As Jones watched all of this unfold, including a Gold Medal success for the USA, he envisioned that outside the Olympics, basketball could and would thrive on its own.

He believed a World Championship was needed to bring the greatest teams together, with 10 national teams taking part for the inaugural 1950 event in Buenos Aires.

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The number of participating countries has gradually increased over the years, and the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 in China saw a record 32 teams take the floor across eight cities for a remarkable spectacle.

The story for Argentina, champions of FIBA Basketball World Cup 1950

Its humble beginnings make the first FIBA Basketball World Cup even more special, especially for the tournament hosts Argentina, who defeated USA 64-50 in the Final. 

Argentina was neutral during War World II, which made it an ideal location to host the first World Cup given the circumstances. 

The tournament might have been even stronger if a few other countries had taken part.

Uruguay boycotted the event because their journalists were not being granted entry to Argentina, while Europe was undergoing reconstruction so Italy, who had a spot in the tournament, decided not participate.

To cut down on expenses and burdened by the costs of recovery from the war, France and Spain shared a plane to travel to Argentina. Meanwhile, Egypt took part as the champions of Europe, having hosted the previous European Championship in Cairo and travelled to South America as one of the 10 teams teams. 

Chile, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador and Yugoslavia also took part.

When it was all said and done, though, the Final pitted the the hosts against USA, a country that had not lost in Olympic competition since the first basketball tournament at a Summer Games, in 1936 in Berlin.

The USA team at the first FIBA Basketball World Cup in 1950

In truth, no one had had any idea how good the American team would be. The World Championship, as it was called, was a new tournament and did not seem to be a pressing concern for the USA at the time.

The USA roster was made up of players from an AAU team called the Denver Chevrolets. What stood out about that side is that no less than seven players were over six feet (1.83m) tall. 

If the USA had an advantage in size, Argentina coach Jorge Canavesi looked to offset that by playing faster.

"We knew that we had a great disadvantage in terms of height, so we thought we had to be very good physically to be able to rebound and take counterattacks," he said in remarks carried by basquetplus. "Speed ​​was our strong suit."

Oscar Furlong was a physical and intelligent center of Argentina

Argentina also had a 1.92m (6ft 4in) center that went by the name of Oscar Furlong, someone that not only scored but set up teammates and crashed the boards.

"Furlong was not physically gifted and he was our tallest center at just 1.92m," Canavesi said, "but he had a lot of intelligence to play with and enormous quality."

Argentina were far more decisive in their run to the Final, blowing out France (56-40), Chile (62-41), France again (66-41) and Egypt (68-33). Only Brazil, in their second game, did Argentina have to dig deep before prevailing, 40-35.

The Final between Argentina and the USA tipped off at 10pm local time in Buenos Aires but the Luna Park venue was already full with more than 15,000 fans by 7pm. Legend has it that more than 20,000 people were at the complex. Many fans outside weren't were unable to enter the arena. 

Argentina had the better start and led 34-24 at half-time, yet the USA stormed back and closed the gap to 40-37 in the second half.

At this point, Canavesi make a big decision that restored momentum for his team and put them in front to stay. He inserted Hugo Del Vecchio into the game midway through the second half and the player, thriving on the fast break, poured in 14 points.

Argentina, with the Americans constantly fouling and putting them on the line, did a lot of damage from the free-throw line, making 32 of their attempts. That was half of their total score.

The USA ended up having several players foul out.

Fans ran onto the court at Luna Park to celebrate Argentina's victory in the Final

"I will never forget the moment immediately after the end of the game, when all the lights in Luna Park went on while people ran onto the court," Argentina player Ruben Menini said. "We didn't know that this was the custom when a team became a world champion, and it was exciting, especially when people spontaneously stood up and began to sing the national anthem."

The celebrations spilled into the streets, too, as people left cafes and bars and lit their newspapers on fire. This marked the beginning of the Argentinian tradition of the Night of Torches.

Argentina have been a major force in international basketball since, especially in the last two decades.

In 2004, Argentina won the gold medal at the Athens Olympics. At FIBA Basketball World Cups, they have also been outstanding, reaching the Final in both 2002 and 2019.

As special as the great triumph was 16 years ago in Greece, it's safe to say that the first great success, in 1950, holds a special place in the hearts of all sports fans in the country.

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