Nigeria have pulled off one of the greatest upsets in international basketball history by stunning the United States in an Olympic exhibition game in Las Vegas, 90-87.
On Saturday evening, Nigeria, with six NBA players and former NBA head coach Mike Brown at the helm, became the first African nation to beat the US, who were playing the first of the five tune-up games before the Tokyo Olympics.
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t mean much in the standings as far as where we’re trying to get to,” Brown said. “But it’s a good win for us. I don’t think any African team has been able to beat USA Basketball in an exhibition game or a real game … We’re trying to get a little bit of momentum for Nigeria and for the continent of Africa,” Brown added.
The Nigerian side defeated a US side starting five of Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, Jayson Tatum, Kevin Durant and Bam Adebayo. The Americans were without three players still active in the NBA Finals.
Nigeria, which had 12 NBA players in their 49-man training camp in California and seven in uniform on Saturday, were led by Gabriel Nnamdi Vincent with 21 points. “We kept the game simple,” Vincent said, “and came out on top.”
Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant, who had never before played in a loss for the national team in 39 senior international games, led the Americans with 17 points. “I’m kind of glad it happened,” US head coach Gregg Popovich said, noting that the Nigerians have had the luxury of training together since late June while the US side had assembled just four days earlier.
Popovich said the defeat should be seen as a learning experience and not “the end of the world”.
“I thought that the Nigerian team played very physically, did a great job in that regard and knocked down a lot of 3s,” Popovich said. “Give them credit.” Nigeria’s win came nine years after the US crushed the Nigerians 156-73 at the London Olympics. Nigeria lost to the US again four years later in an exhibition, that time by 44 points.
“Nigeria’s come a long way with their basketball,” Jerry Colangelo, the US team’s managing director, said.
The US, who have won three Olympic men’s basketball titles since settling for bronze in 2004, are looking to regain global dominance after finishing in seventh at the 2019 FIBA World Cup. They play Australia, ranked third in the world, in a friendly on Monday.