Team USA may have blown out Serbia by 37 points in the FIBA World Cup final on Sunday, but the award for Best After Party most certainly belonged to the silver medal winners. While the stars of Team USA returned home to prepare for NBA training camps (which, oh by the way, start in roughly two weeks), the Serbians received a hero’s welcome at their parliament building, where the thousands of rowdy fans assembled looked more like a FIFA World Cup crowd than one associated with FIBA. For those keeping score at home, yes, basketball is a big deal around the world, especially in Serbia, a country with a rich basketball tradition.
The current Serbian program is the successor of the old Yugoslavian teams which once featured Drazen Petrovic, Vlade Divac, Toni Kukoc, Dino Radja and, later (as Serbia and Montenegro), Peja Stojakovic. Their greatest triumphs also happened to be the last time a country repeated as FIBA champions before the current four-tournament winning streak put together by the United States. The Serbs won gold at the 1998 tournament — the year no NBA players participated due to the lockout — and their follow-up victory coincided with the nadir of USA Basketball: the 2002 FIBA World Championship in Indianapolis, where the Americans, replete with NBA players, finished in a woeful sixth place.
As for the current iteration, the Serbs were a couple bogus calls away from making the FIBA final game in Turkey in 2010, and after missing the 2012 Olympics due to some bad luck, appeared to have run into similar misfortune in 2014. They were slotted in the dreaded Group A, the closest thing to a Group of Death the FIBA tournament had thanks to the presence of France, Brazil and tournament co-favorite Spain. They barely squeaked into the knockout stages with a 2-3 overall record, then went on a tear, crushing Greece and Brazil before building a huge lead on France in the semifinal before holding on for a 90-85 win and a surprising berth in the final. A perfect start to the gold medal game quickly gave way to a USA rout, but as you can see in the above video, nobody back home really seemed to care.