Officially called the FIBA World Championhip, it takes place every 4 years. There are actually two tournaments, one for men and one for women. The best national basketball teams from every continent in the world play against each other in order to crown the world champion. In many countries it is considered the most important basketball tournament, although in the USA the Olympic basketball tournament traditionally attracts more attention. This might be the reason for the poor performance of the United States national teams that have won just 3 gold medals in 14 tournaments. Here is a brief summary of the past tournaments:

Year |Location                         |World             |USA position (wins - losses)
1950 | Buenos Aires, Argentina   | Argentina       | 2 (5-1)
1954 | Rio de Janeiro, Brazil,       | USA             | 1 (9-0)
1959 | Santiago, Chile,                | Brazil             | 2 (7-2)
1963 | Rio de Janeiro, Brazil,       | Brazil             | 4 (6-3)
1967 | Montevideo, Uruguay,      | USSR             | 4 (7-2)
1970 | Ljublijana, Yugoslavia,      | Yugoslavia     | 5 (6-3)
1974 | San Juan, Puerto Rico,      | USSR             | 3 (8-1)
1978 | Manila, Philippines,            | Yugoslavia     | 5 (6-4)
1982 | Cali, Colombia,                 | USSR           | 2 (7-2)
1986 | Madrid, Spain,                  | USA             | 1 (9-1)
1990 | Buenos Aires, Argentina,   | Yugoslavia     | 3 (6-2)
1994 | Toronto, Canada,              | USA             | 1 (8-0)
1998 | Athens, Greece,                 | Yugoslavia     | 3 (7-2)
2002 | Indianapolis, USA,             | Yugoslavia     | 6 (6-3)

For the Toronto (1994) and Indianapolis (2002) games the USA assembled teams with top NBA players, which contributed a lot to the credibility of a competition that could be characterized as a joke, especially in the 50's and 60's. The 1998 USA team (Dominique Wilkins, Derrick Coleman, Shawn Kemp, Shaquille O'Neal, Reggie Miller, Joe Dumars, Alonzo Mourning, Mark Price, Dan Majerle, Larry Johnson, Kevin Johnson, Steve Smith coached by Don Nelson) cruised to win the gold medal with a 37.7 average win margin. The 2002 USA team included Paul Pierce, Reggie Miller, Ben Wallace, Andre Miller, Michael Finley, Baron Davis, Elton Brand, Jermaine O'Neal, Raef LaFrentz and other talented professional players, and was coached by Milwaukee Bucks coach George Karl. Nevertheless, it was defeated in 3 of its last 4 games (by Argentina, Yugoslavia and Spain) and finished 6th, the worst placement of a USA basketball team in a major international competition.

Most of the other USA teams were either comprised of college players (70's, 80's and 90's) or represented by squads that nowadays sound ridiculous (1950 - the AAU Denver Chevrolets, 1954 - the Peoria Caterpillars, 1959 - an Air Force squad comprised of volunteers, 1963 - AAU, armed forces, collegians, 1978 - Athletes In Action). Surprisingly, all of these teams did better than the horrendous 2002 NBA team, which came unprepared and arrogant to compete against well-trained and experienced teams from Yugoslavia, Argentina, Germany, Spain and other countries.

The undeniable kings of the FIBA World Championships are the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, having won 8 out of 14 tournaments. In 1990 the Yugoslavian team led by the late Drazen Petrovic, Vlade Divac and Toni Kukoc defeated the USA college team (Alonzo Mourning, Kenny Anderson, Chris Gatling, Billy Owens) 99-91 to advance to the final where it defeated the USSR and captured the gold.