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1 /Introduction On August 15, 2004, Puerto Rico faced the United States during the first day of basketball competition in Athens at the twenty-eighth Summer Olympic Games. Since their debut in 1960, this was the ninth Olympic Games appearance for the Puerto Rican basketball team. There was much anticipation; they faced the dreaded U.S. “Dream Team,” composed of the National Basketball Association (nba) stars after the International Olympic Committee (ioc) allowed professional players to participate in the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. The so-called Dream Team had not only been undefeated since 1992; they had crushed their opposition, winning the gold medal in 1992 by a margin of 44 points per game. I watched the game that day in the media room of my apartment complex with a group of friends (Mexicans and other Puerto Ricans) while a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I, a faithful fan of the Puerto Rican national team, endearingly called “Los 12 Magníficos,” followed the game closely. The game started when Carlos Arroyo, Puerto Rico’s point guard, led the charge along with Puerto Rican legend José “Piculín” Ortiz, Larry Ayuso, Rolando Hourruitinier, Eddie Casiano, and Daniel Santiago , among others. The U.S. Dream Team included the usual nba stars and some future Hall of Famers, including Allen Iverson, Tim Duncan, Lamar Odom, Dwayne Wade, LeBron James, and Amare Stoudemire. The game began at 8:00 p.m. Athens time, in front of 11,560 people. The first quarter was close, as each team made baskets and the defense cleared the boards. The quarter ended with Puerto Rico leading 21–20; I had no idea my heart could beat so fast. After 2 / Introduction the second quarter began, something utterly unrealistic and highly improbable happened: the Puerto Ricans took over the game and closed the second quarter on a 28–7 run, stunning the crowd and, indeed, the entire sports world. Meanwhile the Dream Team had fallen into a deep hole. The rest of the match resembled the first quarter. The U.S. “Nightmare Team,” as they were later called, tried unsuccessfully to make a comeback. Puerto Rico won the game. Carlos Arroyo made a name for himself, becoming a Puerto Rican hero, finishing with 24 points, 7 assists, and 4 steals as he proudly displayed the corners of his jersey showing the name “Puerto Rico.” The image was captured in an iconic photograph that traveled across the world (see fig. 1). More significant, the game ended with the Puerto Ricans defeatFig . 1. Carlos Arroyo, point guard for the Puerto Rican national basketball team, during the U.S.–Puerto Rico game in 2004 in Athens. ap Photo/Michael Conroy. Introduction / 3 ing the United States by an embarrassing 19-point margin, 92–73. This margin of defeat stands as the largest for any U.S. basketball team in Olympic history.1 It was only the third loss in U.S. basketball Olympic history: twice to the Soviet Union, first in a controversial gold medal game in 1972 at the height of the cold war and then in the 1988 semifinals in Seoul.2 At the end of the game the U.S. Olympic record was 109-3, although they lost two more times at Athens, to Lithuania in the preliminary round and to Argentina in the semifinals, winning a bronze. That moment in Urbana felt like the greatest achievement in Puerto Rican basketball, greater even than winning a gold medal. On campus the next morning, colleagues, professors, staff, and other friends commented on the Puerto Rican victory over the Americans . They congratulated me as if I had been playing on the team. I could sense that some of them had been talking among themselves about the game, discussing the great victory for Puerto Rico, debating whether the U.S. team was still the Dream Team, and speculating about the up-and-coming talent of “international” basketball. Newspapers, sports networks, and newscasts commented on the lopsided defeat of the Americans to the Puerto Ricans and what this defeat meant to U.S. basketball.3 Many questioned basketball’s status as an “American” sport.4 Many sports commentators debated the tactical reasons for the loss, whether the U.S. team just had a bad game or the Puerto Rican team had a good game in terms of shooting, playing defense, or coaching.5 Admittedly I too questioned the potential of Puerto Rican basketball. After training as a...


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