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Canada qualifies for Olympic men’s basketball for first time since Steve Nash era

Canada men's basketball team

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander L of Canada celebrates scoring with his teammate Kelly Olynyk during the Group H match between Lebanon and Canada at the 2023 FIBA World Cup in Jakarta, Indonesia, Aug. 27, 2023. (Photo by Agung Kuncahya B./Xinhua via Getty Images)

Xinhua News Agency via Getty Images

Canada’s men’s basketball team qualified for the Olympics for the first time since the 2000 Sydney Games.

A Canadian team led by All-NBA guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander beat world No. 1 Spain 88-85 to reach the FIBA World Cup quarterfinals for the first time since it hosted in 1994.

Canada needed to beat Spain to advance and to qualify for Paris, or else it would have been forced to a last-chance Olympic qualifier next year, likely in June. Spain is now forced to one of those last-chance tournaments.

Canada joins the U.S., which also qualified Sunday, as well as host nation France, Australia, South Sudan and Japan in the 12-team Olympic field. The top two European nations at the World Cup will also qualify, plus four more nations via the last-chance qualifying tournaments.

FIBA WORLD CUP: Schedule, Results

Canada has more NBA players than any nation other than the U.S. and just missed qualifying for recent Olympics.

Canada qualified for the Paris Games despite the absence of Jamal Murray (NBA champion point guard for the Denver Nuggets) and Andrew Wiggins (2022 All-Star forward for the Golden State Warriors). NBA stars often skip the World Cup to ensure a summer of rest between NBA seasons, especially if they plan to play the Olympics the following year.

In 2021, a Canadian team with eight NBA players lost 103-101 in overtime to a Czech Republic team with one NBA player in a last-chance Olympic qualifying tournament in British Columbia.

In 2016, Canada lost to France with a Rio Olympic berth at stake.

In 2015, a Canadian team with nine NBA players lost 79-78 to a Venezuelan team with zero NBA players in a winner-to-Rio Olympic qualifier at a North and South American tournament.

At Canada’s last Olympic appearance in 2000, Steve Nash led a scrappy team that nearly reached the medal round. Nash and center Todd MacCulloch were their only NBA players. Nash’s devotion was such that he was reportedly sobbing and had to be dragged off the floor after Canada lost in the quarterfinals to eventual silver medalist France.