Cuba is more known for baseball and cigars than basketball, but the roots of basketball run deep and have been around since the early 19th century.
But basketball did not take hold until after Castro took power and that is when it began to flourish. For the most part organized basketball is played in and around Havana.
First International Competition
The first important participation by Cuba internationally was in the 1948 London Olympic Games. The team had high aspirations but not a whole lot of talent. Players such as Jose Llanusa, Fabio Ruiz and Mario Quintero played on that team.
The team won a couple of games in that first important international competition but basketball drifted aimlessly for the next few decades. In 1970 the Cuban national team started to make huge strides and became very competitive against the powers of the basketball world.
In Turin, Italy, at the University Games, they took third by defeating the Italians in the consolation game. In 1972 they won a bronze medal in the Olympic Games in Munich, Germany. In 1971 the national team defeated the United States national team in the Pan American games in Cali, Colombia and that was the first and only time the United States was not in the finals. In 1974 they took fourth place in the World championships held in Puerto Rico.
A Period of Losses
The Cuban National Team suffered in international competitions during much of the 1980’s and 1990’s. They did not contend for any medals at the biggest and most important international competitions.
Even today the national team is not as competitive as it once was in the 1970’s. Cuba has suffered in the bigger international events, they have not participated in many of them and ones they have participated in they have not finished high in the standings. They remain competitive in regional competitions such as the Pan American Games, the FIBA Americas Championships and other Caribbean competitions, but on the world stage they have suffered setback after setback in recently times.
Famous Cuban Players
Cuban has had it share of excellent hard court players and if you were to name the best five and make that your Cuban dream team, than they would be Alfonso Cueto, Alejandro Urgelles, Pedro Chappe, Rafael Canizares and Lazaro Borrell. Without a doubt, these five stand above the rest that have represented this proud island nation.
Alejandro Urgelles Guibot (born July 2, 1951) won the bronze medal with the men’s national team at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany.
Rafael Cañizares Poey (born March 24, 1950) won the bronze medal with the men’s national team at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, West.
Lazaro Borrell (born September 20, 1972) a 6’8″, 220 lb forward. He played in the U.S. with the NBA’s Seattle SuperSonics during 1999-2000.
Pedro Chappé García (born June 16, 1945 – died May 15, 2003) won the bronze medal with the men’s national team at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany. Chappé was one of the central players in the Cuban basketball team of the late 1960s and 1970s.
Alfonso Cueto (born August 2, 1946) is a Cuban-born former professional basketball player. A 6’7″ center, Cueto attended Coral Gables High School in Florida and the University of Tulsa. He was selected by the Seattle SuperSonics in the tenth round of the 1969 NBA Draft, but he never joined the team. Cueto did play two seasons in the American Basketball Association as a member of the Miami Floridians and Memphis Pros.