The international stage has not been kind to Canadian basketball over the past two decades. In 2000, two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash led Canada on an improbable run to the Olympic quarterfinals before losing a 68-63 heartbreaker to eventual silver medalist France. Ever since? It's been a series of disappointments. Canada hadn't even qualified for the Olympics since that 2000 run. Until Sunday.
Canada dominated the first group stage of the 2023 FIBA World Cup, blowing out their first three opponents by 111 combined points. As the top two finishers from the Americas at the World Cup earn Olympic bids, Canada was in a position in which a single victory almost certainly would have clinched a berth. From there, however, they began to falter. They were upset by Brazil in their first second-round game, and then fell behind Spain by 12 to end the third quarter in their second. It seemed as though the Canadians were headed for yet another crushing defeat. And then, perhaps the two most famous players on the team stepped up.
It all started on defense, as Canada held Spain to just 12 fourth-quarter points behind a monster performance out of Dillon Brooks. Brooks also hit a number of clutch shots in the fourth quarter, but the offense was firmly in the hands of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who not only outscored Spain in the fourth quarter on his own, 13-12, but also managed to score 11 points in the final 1:51 of the game to steal the victory and punch Canada's ticket to Paris in 2024.
"I told my dad I was gonna get there," Canadian forward RJ Barrett joked after the game. Barrett's father, Rowan Barrett, was a member of that 2000 Olympic team and currently serves as the executive vice president and general manager of the Canadian national team. Now, father and son will both be able to call themselves Olympians.
Of course, Canada's work isn't done in the Philippines. With a matchup against Luka Doncic and Slovenia looming in the knockout stage, Canada can still win this tournament and be crowned World Cup champions. Even if they don't quite reach that goal, Canada has never medaled at the World Cup and hasn't medaled at any international competition that includes teams outside of the Americas since earning silver at the 1936 Olympics. This team has a chance to become the most accomplished in Canadian history even before taking the floor in Paris next summer. Thanks to Gilgeous-Alexander, Brooks, Barrett and the most talented roster it has ever assembled, it is in great shape to do just that.