Thursday, August 2, 2012

Bizzaro Olympic Records

The United States polished off Nigeria earlier today to the tune of 156-73 in men's basketball, making for an Olympic single-game scoring record. (Please remember: that was a 40-minute game, not a 48-minute game like in the NBA.) The previous record was 138, set by Brazil in Seoul 1988.

Well and good. Here, though, let's focus on the opposite end of the spectrum. What's the lowest score?

For that, we have to go back to Berlin 1936. 23 nations entered the inaugural Olympic basketball tournament. They were probably sorry they did. FIBA, basketball's international governing body, decided to use Berlin as an opportunity to experiment with outdoor basketball. Things weren't at the stage yet where you could get brand new venues for virtually every event, so they had to improvise, and the venue selected for basketball turned out to be a group of lawn, clay and sand tennis courts that the records (PDF file, page 162-163) don't give a formal name to.

The thing about playing basketball on grass and clay is that the ball doesn't bounce like it does on hardwood or concrete. The thing about playing basketball outdoors is, well, it's fine when it's sunny out. But sometimes it's not sunny. Sometimes it rains.

Have you ever played basketball on sand? In a rainstorm? It doesn't work too well.

Oh, and it's the pre-shot-clock era.

And the organizers banned any player over 6 foot 3, as David Wallechinsky's Complete Book of the Olympics maintains (this thing is a godsend come Olympic time). That rule got rescinded only after an American protest.

And also there's no NBA yet and the US Olympic Trials were won by a company team from Universal Pictures (now Universal Studios), a team supplemented in Berlin by players from the runner-up McPherson Globe Refiners of Kansas and University of Washington player Ralph Wilson. And that was the American team, still not really facing any true international competition. (The team was split in half and alternated games, as another rule limited teams to seven players in uniform for any one game.)

Some sample scores, taken utterly at whim from a glance at the bracket:

*Peru 35, Egypt 22
*Japan 35, China 19
*Poland 28, Latvia 23
*Czechoslovakia 20, Germany 9
*Philippines 35, Mexico 20

Mexico got the bronze by beating Poland 26-12. The United States, of course, won gold, beating Canada in the final. The final was held during a gigantic rain dump on the tennis courts, meaning the 1936 Olympic basketball gold medal match was held on a wet sand surface, in the rain, and also the fans had no actual seats, so they had to stand in the rain watching the basketball-like substance that was being extruded on them.

The final score was 19-8. Canada's eight points is the record for lowest score in a non-forfeited Olympic basketball game. (There were six forfeits in 1936. Two involved Peru's mid-Olympic boycott of Nazi Germany; two more involved Spain being caught up in the Spanish Civil War; and the other two were forfeits by Hungary, who also withdrew prior to the competition.)

And let us all pray it never gets challenged.

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