On this day 15 years ago, Puerto Rico stunned its American brethren.
In both teams’ opening game of the 2004 Olympics, the Puerto Ricans blew the doors off Team USA, 92-73, which would set the tone for an eventual bronze-medal finish for the Americans.
Carlos Arroyo turned himself into a household name overnight with his performance, scoring 24 points, dishing seven assists and generating four steals in the rout. Eddie Casiano and Larry Ayuso rounded out Puerto Rico’s double-digit scorers, posting 18 and 15, respectively.
Tim Duncan dominated down low, putting up a double-double on 15 points and 16 rebounds. But it didn’t do much to help as the team struggled to slow down Puerto Rico’s offense.
Team USA entered the 2004 Olympics coming off a sixth-place finish at the 2002 FIBA World Championship, and how the team came out in its first game two years later did not inspire confidence of a turnaround. The Americans responded to this defeat with victories over Greece and Australia before losing to Lithuania, 94-90, and smashing Angola to finish 3-2 in Group B, placing in the fourth and final position to qualify for the knockout stage.
The team took out Spain in the Quarterfinals, 102-94, but were again shocked in the Semifinals, this time with Argentina as the culprit, 89-81. The loss ended a three-Olympics streak of gold medals for the program.
“In ’04, we had two weeks to put that team together, go to Greece and play and try to win a gold medal,” Carmelo Anthony, who was on the team in 2004 and played on several iterations of Team USA following, told Tim Bontemps of The Washington Post in 2016. “It didn’t work. We had a weird group of guys on that team, guys that didn’t know each other, guys that were young and coming into the league, and it didn’t work.”
Team USA found itself in a rematch with Lithuania for the bronze medal and took care of business when it mattered, winning 104-96 and keeping the country’s streak of medaling in every Olympics competition it entered since 1936. Still, it was only the second time in history the Americans came home with a bronze and third time the team failed to win gold.
The disgrace of the 2004 run, particularly the Puerto Rico loss, spurred a revival in USA Basketball. In the three Olympics since, Team USA has won every gold, and in dominant fashion. The Americans have not lost an Olympic game since falling to Argentina in the 2004 Semifinals and have a combined 660-point differential over 24 games in 2008, 2012 and 2016.