Basketball Betting: 2020 Summer Olympics Gold Medal Prop

Written by:
C Costigan
Published on:

There are always plenty of interesting and unique prop bets at  I came across this wager this morning and it immediately struck me as potentially an excellent value.  The 2020 Summer Olympics might be months away but there’s no time like the present to lock in what sure looks to be an overlay price.

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That’s the question we have to answer to cash our ticket.  The prices on the prop are as follows:

YES:                -1000

NO:                  +500

The 2020 Summer Olympics—officially called the ‘Games of the XXXII Olympiad’--get underway on July 24, 2020.  You’ll also hear it referred to as ‘Tokyo 2020’ and as you’ve probably figured out by now will take place in Tokyo, Japan.  206 nations are expected to attend with competition consisting of 339 events in 33 sports.  One of the highlight events of the Summer Olympics is the men’s basketball competition.

The history of basketball at the Summer Olympics is a story of domination by the United States.  Initially, the US teams sent legit amateur players—typically top college stars—to compete for the gold medal.  The United States won the first seven Olympic basketball gold medals but the dynamic of the event changed forever in 1972.  The Soviet Union upset the Americans to take the gold medal.  Not surprisingly, the Americans didn’t handle defeat gracefully.  They would come back to win the 1976 Summer Olympics but the United States’ veneer of being unbeatable was gone.

After the United States boycotted the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics, punishing American athletes  for the supposed misdeeds of the USSR they wanted to ‘assert their presence with authority’ at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.  Unfortunately, the Soviet Union and Hungary would boycott the games in response to the US boycott in 1980.  The United States would win the gold medal but did so against a significantly weaker field.  In 1988, the United States could manage only a bronze medal and that brought about another dramatic change in the competitive dynamic of the Olympics.

Victory was no longer enough, the US wanted revenge.  And it quickly became apparent that they would get it as the US Men’s Basketball team would henceforth consist of NBA players.  With the NBA in a ‘golden age’, the US team that took the court at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona is certainly the best basketball team that has ever been assembled and likely ever will be assembled.  Nicknamed ‘The Dream Team’ it included Charles Barkley, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Scottie PPippen, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Clyde Drexler and Magic Johnson.  Sports Illustrated compared the team to ‘Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison’ and that’s the level of excellence they achieved rampaging undefeated through the Olympics winning by an average margin of 43.8 PPG.

The United States has won five of the six Olympic Gold Medals since the ‘Dream Team’.  Argentina won the Gold Medal in 2004.  Other changes have become apparent.  NBA players are more mindful of the risk of injury and the possibility of undermining their future earning potential.  As a result, many have no interest in being on the Olympic team.  Even players who would ordinarily like to play are hesitant to give up their time off before entering back in to another grueling NBA season.

Most significantly, the rest of the world is catching up to the United States competitively.  The US talent level could only decline after the ‘Dream Team’ and at the same time the international game has improved dramatically as evidenced by the influx of players from Europe and elsewhere into the NBA. Another element of the US decline is the trend toward ‘one and done’ college players.  While the US international teams have superior athleticism, the international teams are more fundamentally sound and better able to compete as a cohesive unit.  The international game has always been dramatically different from the NBA game—it’s less physical, more perimeter oriented.  For whatever reason, the current crop of NBA players are less able to adapt their game than their predecessors.

Although the US has always prioritized the Summer Olympics, the Americans haven’t fared particularly well in other international competitions such as the FIBA Basketball World Cup.  In the eight World Cup events held since 1990 the United States has won three, Yugoslavia three and Spain 2.  The US failed to earn a medal in the most recent World Cup held this past Summer in China and won by Spain with Argentina and France winning the Silver and Bronze.

Given the current competitive balance of international basketball it’s impossible to conclude that the United States are a 90% or higher ‘lock’ to win the Gold Medal.  The implied probability at -1000 is 90.1%.  For that reason, we’d much rather play the +500 for the US not to win the Gold Medal.  In essence, you’ll have a +500 bet on every other country in the event and will pocket a nice return on investment if any of them prevail.


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