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MIES (Switzerland) – On this day, August 15, 2004, Puerto Rico turned international hoops on its head by blowing out the United States, 92-73, at the start of the men’s Olympic basketball tournament in Greece.
The resounding defeat was the first in Olympic competition for an American team with NBA players. It was also just the third loss in USA men’s basketball team Olympic history.
Much of the inspiration for Puerto Rico was provided by Carlos Arroyo. The point guard had 24 points and seven assists, while current national team coach Eddie Casiano weighed in with 18 points.
The USA didn’t stop Puerto Rico’s Arroyo, who finished with 24 points and seven assists
Puerto Rico fans will always look back fondly on the contest in which their team took control in the second quarter by stretching a 21-20 lead to 49-27 by half-time.
Julio Toro’s team, which also had the FIBA Hall of Fame center José Rafael “Piculín” Ortiz Rijos, never looked back.
Piculín, who played college basketball in America at Oregon State, had eight points and six rebounds.
The victory was special for the legendary Piculín, who played college basketball at Oregon State
The result was an ominous sign for the USA at that Olympic Games. While they had superstars in Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury, a young trio of future basketball icons in LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, and a star-studded technical staff that included head coach Larry Brown and assistants Gregg Popovich, Oliver Purnell and Roy Williams, nearly every game was a struggle.
The Americans lost twice more, to Lithuania in the Preliminary Round and to Argentina in the Semi-Finals, but did reach the podium after avenging their defeat to the Lithuanians in the Bronze Medal Game.
Puerto Rico, who fell to Lithuania in their next game and also lost to Greece in the Preliminary Round, suffered defeat to Italy in the Quarter-Finals.
For the USA, the day the men fell to Puerto Rico was a pivotal one in the history of their program. It set in motion a disappointing run at that Olympics and led to changes, the biggest of which was Jerry Colangelo’s taking over the management of the men’s national team program.
LeBron James, 19, had a rude introduction to the Olympics but later won gold in Beijing and London
His first big decision was to hand the USA national team reins to Duke Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski, the doyen of NCAA coaches.
James, Wade and Anthony, as well as Colangelo and Krzyzewski, spearheaded a turnaround that has seen the Americans go unbeaten in Olympic competition since.
The USA lost to Greece in the Semi-Finals at the FIBA Basketball World Cup two years later in Japan yet rebounded with title runs at the FIBA AmeriCup 2007 in Las Vegas, the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympics and the 2010 and 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cups.