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Outdoor Basketball at the Olympics

Basketball was invented in the winter – December 1891 – and is known as a winter sport. However, it has been a part of the Summer Olympics since making its debut at the 1936 Games, and there is little to no call for it to ever be moved to the Winter Olympics. In fact, that move is not even allowed by the Olympic Charter, which states that “only those sports which are practiced on snow or ice are considered as winter sports.”

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It may not be a winter sport in the eyes of the International Olympic Committee, but it is predominantly an indoor one as official basketball competitions – e.g. high school, college and professional – are almost always played indoors. But one very significant exception occurred at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany.

In a move that is unfathomable today, the entire 21-team competition took place on outdoor tennis courts made of clay and sand. Fortunately, the playing conditions were reasonably okay for the vast majority of the tournament. However, the gold medal game between North American rivals Canada and the United States was played in a driving rainstorm that followed a day of rain. The court was described by Bill Wheatley, the American captain, as “muddy and slippery” while Frank Lubin, a U.S. player who was not on the game-day roster and had to watch with the rest of the spectators, said that it was like “watching a water polo game.”

Also, not only was there no cover for the 2,000 spectators, but there were no seats for them either, causing them all to have to stand in the rain to watch the historic game.

Although basketball was a much lower-scoring sport then than now, this contest was exceptionally so thanks to the conditions. The Americans dominated the first half in taking a 15-4 lead, and the teams could only combine for eight points in the second stanza. The United States won, 19-8. James Naismith, the Canadian-American who invented basketball 45 years earlier in Springfield, Mass., then awarded his two countries their gold and silver medals.





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