American hoops: The history of United States Olympic basketball from Berlin to Barcelona

Carson Cunningham, Purdue University


Basketball reflects the heart and mind of the burgeoning global; culture. This is evident in a myriad of ways, most obviously by the visibility of, its stars, such as Michael Jordan, Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Yao Ming, and LeBron James. Indeed, the international reach of these stars enables basketball to not only reflect but shape global culture. One of the best examples of basketball's impact on global culture took place at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona when three forces, liberal capitalism, technological innovation, and basketball, blossomed with exquisite timing leading to the "Dream Team." At the 1992 Barcelona Games, deft marketing by multinational corporations, the attractiveness of basketball's action, and America's global lead in capital and innovation propelled Dream Team stars like Michael Jordan into becoming some of the most recognizable faces on the planet.1 Attempting to put Jordan's popularity into perspective, historian Walter LaFeber pointed out that at the end of the twentieth century Chinese school children named Michael Jordan one of the two greatest figures in twentieth-century history, the other Communist revolutionary Zhou Enlai.2 My dissertation is partly an attempt to examine how this happened; how the Dream Team reached such a powerful international level of cultural potency. In a larger context this project also aims to determine the broader ramifications of basketball's meteoric rise in the global age. It considers whether basketball helps America live up to its ideals at home, and if basketball promotes open-markets and democratic values, or liberal capitalism, abroad. To do so, I started at the beginning; in 1936, the first time basketball appeared as an official, international event at the Olympics. My research shows that the Dream Team was the culmination' of a number of actions over the previous sixty years: from changes to basketball's rules, to the implementation of market-based economies and democratic political models after World War II, to technological advancements, to the contributions of a remarkably diverse group of innovators in both basketball and business. And it suggests that the commercialism and culture of Olympic basketball has complemented many of the values associated with liberal capitalism. ^ 1David Halberstam, Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World He Made (New York: Random House, 1999), 4. 2Walter LaFeber, Michael Jordan and the New Global Capitalism (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 1999), 27.^




Randy Roberts, Purdue University.

Subject Area

History, Black|History, United States|Recreation

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