In 1986, the Soviets had a great basketball team. Led by Arvydas Sabonis, likely the best big man in the world at that time although not allowed to play in the NBA, and the USSR still controlled the Baltic nations - Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia.
They’re all very small countries but they’re giants in basketball, Lithuania in particular.
Sabonis was a Lithuanian as was Sarunas Marciulionis.
We haven’t spotted him here yet so can’t say for sure he was on the team (the broadcast is in Spanish which makes it harder) but if not, he was coming.
Other guys in the field: Oscar Schmidt (Brazil) and Drazen Petrovic, Vlade Divac and Toni Kukoc (Yugoslavia).
There were many more important tragedies in the Balkans War that erupted when Yugoslavia fell apart but that doesn’t negate the tragedy of losing one of history’s great basketball teams. Years later, Divac mourned the loss of the team and of the bond he had with his basketball family which was ripped apart like everything else in the Balkans. Some of them apparently never spoke again.
And the US team?
Among others, it had David Robinson, Kenny Smith, Tommy Amaker and Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues.
The 1992 Dream Team cemented basketball as a Spanish passion but the 1986 FIBA team laid the groundwork and in particular, Bogues, who caught the Spanish imagination. They called him La Chispa Negra, the Black Spark, and they loved him (look at the reaction to a Bogues foul at about the 3:50 mark of the first half and remember that in Europe, whistling at a sporting event is the equivalent of jeering).
This video is a great chance to see just how good Bogues was. Remember that he was just 5-3. He does things here that are nearly inconceivable and is blindingly quick. He used to drive people crazy because he was so small and quick that no one could see him coming and then he’d be gone.
Also check out how great Sabonis was in 1986. He was just superb. In several places in this game he just makes Robinson look like a skinny kid who’s not fully up to the level of competition.
Amaker is basically Bogues’ backup and didn’t get in a whole lot but he is in at the very end when the US had to survive a major rally by the Soviets.
Three years later, the Berlin Wall would fall and not long after that, the USSR. Yugoslavia blew apart at roughly the same time.
By 1992, professionals were going to major international tournaments and amateur teams were gone forever.
So this is in many ways a moment caught in time. The best part though is Bogues.
Enjoy. Just don’t blink too much or you’ll miss something he does.