Lithuania, Basketball Heaven

In these past Olympics, Lithuania came in fourth. Just behind Argentina, Spain and the United States.

That's no surprise. The Lithuanian team is always in the hunt.

It's worth noting the sizes of these nations, however.

  • The United States is the planet's third most populous nation, with about 305 million people.

  • Spain is 27th most populated, with about 46 million people.

  • Argentina is not far behind, 31st with 40 million.

  • Lithuania has a little more than three million people, ranking 130th.

(UPDATE: John Hollinger pointed out yesterday that the population of Lithuania is about the same as Oregon.)

You go, Lithuania!

On Rockets.com, Jason Friedman recently hashed this out with new Houston international scout Arturas Karnisovas. He was long a top Lithuanian player -- even got to lose to the Dream Team in Barcelona in 1992 -- with some theories about Lithuania's dominance.

People say that we basically took from [Dr. James] Naismith the book and adopted it to our culture and made it our religion. Even if you go back to 1937 and 1939 Lithuania was European champions. So it's the dominant sport by far in Lithuania and we call it our religion. We have student leagues that have twenty thousand participants, we have politicians' leagues where our prime minister is playing, so basketball is part of our life and culture.

And actually this year has been very successful year for our country because if you look at international competition our Under-20s team made it to the finals, Under-18s made it to the finals and our Under-16s won the championship in Europe so basketball is deep in our genes.

It also does not hurt that, accoring to Karnisovas, Lithuanians are tall:

... my shortest friend is possibly 6' 3''. I think a funny story is when I brought my agent, when I was playing professionally, to Lithuania and he was telling me, "I've never felt shorter in my life!"