Soviets edge USA in down to the wire finish at ’82 World Cup

MIES (Switzerland) – Colombia hosted the FIBA Basketball World Cup in 1982, where Molten basketballs made their debut, and once again, the pre-tournament talk was about the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.

The countries had combined to win the previous four world titles and were locked and loaded for another championship run.

The Soviet Union posed with the World Cup Trophy after beating the USA in the Final, 95–94 

As one of FIBA’s iconic moments, the 1982 World Cup – called the FIBA World Championship at the time – had even more to offer. There was a competitive United States team that had several future NBA players, most notably Doc Rivers, a Spain side that was led by Juan Antonio San Epifanio, aka “Epi”, and a Soviet Union team that had 17-year-old sensation, Arvydas Sabonis.

Colombia were rank outsiders with no experience at the event but as hosts, they advanced straight to the Semi-Final Round.

Progressing from the First Round to the Semi-Final Round were Spain (3-0) and USA (2-1) from Group A, the Soviet Union (3-0) and Australia (2-1) from Group B, and Yugoslavia (3-0) and Canada (2-1) from Group C.

One First Round game that raised plenty of eyebrows was the clash between Spain and USA. The Spaniards got 28 points from the electrifying Epi and claimed a 109-99 victory, which put them on top of Group A.

Australia, meanwhile, prevailed in overtime against Brazil, 75-73, a result that ultimately clinched second place in Group B for the Boomers and eliminated Brazil from a spot in the Semi-Final Round.

In Group C, Canada also won a real battle against Czechoslovakia, 104-99, helping them secure second spot and clinch a place in the Semi-Final Round.

Yugoslavia, despite having won the previous World Cup, played in the First Round and claimed convincing wins against Czechoslovakia and Uruguay before seeing off a very good Canada team, 88–78.

Though he was not a big-time producer on the court yet, the 2.21m Sabonis nevertheless broke into the Soviet team and played at his first World Cup.

“I was hugely surprised to be selected,” he admitted in the History of the FIBA Basketball World Cup documentary that was released in 2019.

Among the biggest results in the Semi-Final Round in Cali was the USA’s 88-81 triumph over Yugoslavia. The defending world champions Yugoslavia also fell to the Soviets, 99–94, while the Americans beat the Soviets, 99–93.

The USA won all five of their games in the Semi-Final Round. As the results against other teams that advanced from Preliminary Round group play carried over, the USA had a 5-1 record (they had lost to Spain, who also advanced) – the same as the Soviet Union. The USA and Soviet Union, therefore, clinched spots in the Final.

The 4-2 records for of Yugoslavia and Spain threw them into a battle for Third Place.

USA played hard and nearly captured the title but fell to the Soviet Union in the Final, 95–94.

In a game that went down to the final buzzer, the USA’s Rivers had a chance to claim the title for the Americans but his baseline jump shot was off target to preserve a 95–94 Soviet triumph, giving them the world title for the third time in the last five tournaments.

Coached by FIBA Hall of Famer Ranko Zeravica, Yugoslavia also went to the wire and defeated Spain, 119–117, to reach the podium.