A Look Back At The USA Men's 1994 World Championship Gold Medal
Feb. 25, 2010 - Colorado Springs, Colo.
Although the 1992 Olympics marked the first time the United States fielded a team of NBA professionals, the 1994 Worlds were the first time NBA players represented the USA in a FIBA World Championship. And while the USA certainly was riding the heels of the dominance displayed in Barcelona by the 1992 U.S. Olympic Team, the 'Dream Team,' 1994 USA head coach Don Nelson said his team was on a mission to send its own message. At the time, the USA had not won a FIBA World Championship in eight years, since 1986, and had only captured two previous titles in the history of the World Championship which dated back to 1950.
'I remember that (USA Basketball) hadn't won the World Championship in a long time,' Nelson said recently in an interview with USABasketball.com. 'They wanted to win a gold medal. They wanted to have 'Dream Team II' and put a good team on the floor, and I was part of that.'
The USA opened with a 115-100 victory over Spain as Joe Dumars and Reggie Miller led the USA with 21 and 20 points, respectively. Exploding for a 55-point victory over China, 132-77, Shaquille O'Neal led the USA with 22 points in just 18 minutes of action, while Dominique Wilkins and Miller each added 15 points. The USA rolled to a 105-82 victory over Brazil in the team's final preliminary round game as O'Neal, playing 22 minutes, finished with 27 points and 11 rebounds, while Shawn Kemp and Alonzo Mourning finished with 15 points each.
Starting slowly against Australia, the game was tied 31-31 with 8:45 to go in the opening half, by halftime the Americans had pulled out to a 62-48 advantage. The second half was all USA as it cruised on to a 56-point win, 130-74. Miller led the USA scoring frenzy with 31 points on 9 -of-10 shooting from the field (5-6 3pt FGs), Mark Price added 17 in the win and Dan Majerle had 14 points. Facing Puerto Rico, the U.S. collected an impressive 134-83 victory as O'Neal pumped in 29, Miller made 8-of-11 from 3-point to finish with 28 points and Wilkins added 22. Using its superior depth to wear Russia down, the USA team capped the quarterfinals round with its sixth straight win, a 111-94 victory over Russia. O'Neal again paced the USA with 21 points, Dumars added 20 points and Derrick Coleman accounted for 15.
Shooting just 40.0 percent (34-85 FGs) for the game from the field, and finishing with under 100 points for the first time, the USA relied on its defense as it earned a berth in the gold medal game with a 97-58 win over Greece. Miller led the U.S. with 14 points.
Saving its best game for last, the USA dominated the gold medal contest from start to finish as it trounced Russia 137-91. Playing in front of a World Championship record crowd numbering 32,616, the USA hit 16 of its first 17 shots and led 25-10 with the game less than five minutes old and never looked back. Wilkins led the offensive attack with 20 points, while O'Neal added 18 points and 10 rebounds, and Mourning and Kemp accounted for 15 and 14 points respectively. The USA's 137 points were the second most ever by a USA team in the World Championships.
Averaging 18.0 ppg. and 8.5 rpg., while shooting 71.3 percent from the field. O'Neal was named MVP of the tournament and listed on the five-member All-Tournament team, along with Americans Kemp and Miller, as well as Russia's Sergei Bazarevich and Dino Radja of Croatia.
'I remember the thing that put our whole team at ease was the fact that (Shaquille) asked to come off the bench. He didn't want to start, so I could start Alonzo Mourning or one of the other bigs that I had. Shaq was in his own way the leader of that team. Not starting was one of the leadership things that he did, but he was there for every practice, worked hard and really set the tone. I remember the first time we just took some laps around the gym, he led the entire team in wind sprints. That just set the tone for the whole thing.'
Nelson, who is currently in the fourth year of his second stint as head coach of the Golden State Warriors, is now the second-winningest coach in NBA history (1,309), and no one has participated in more games as a player and head coach than the 3,369 that -Nellie" has notched in his career. Despite all of his success and accomplishments, Nelson said his experience with the 1994 USA World Championship Team is among his most cherished.
'I've been coaching for 40 years or whatever, and it's probably the highlight of my whole career,' said Nelson. 'It's something that we did for free. We did it for our country. We hadn't won a gold medal in a long time in the World Championship, and that was really a special time.'