Las Vegas selected to host Olympic basketball qualifier

Updated: October 29, 2006, 9:56 PM ET
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

USA Basketball's path to the 2008 Beijing Olympics became a bit easier Sunday night when FIBA Americas awarded the Tournament of Americas to Las Vegas next summer.

USA Basketball promised $3 million to FIBA Americas, a figure that ultimately beat out Puerto Rico's bid. FIBA Americas also, in a release late Sunday night from its headquarters in San Juan, cited the commercial impact of having the "FIBA brand with the NBA," as a deciding factor.

The event was originally awarded to Venezuela, but the bid was taken away after the Venezuelan organizing committee was late on payments in August. ESPN.com learned that USA Basketball would have had a problem going to Venezuela because of the country's anti-American government.

UNLV's homecourt, the Thomas & Mack Center, is expected to serve as the host arena. USA Basketball has already dubbed Las Vegas as its training headquarters, meaning the U.S. won't leave the city next summer as it trains and then plays in the same place.

The top two teams in the 10-team tournament earn automatic bids to the Beijing Olympics. The U.S. was forced to qualify after it finished with a bronze medal at the World Championships in Japan last month. The only two automatic qualifiers for the Olympics are Spain, which won the World Championships, and the host country China.

The U.S. is 26-0 in the Tournament of Americas and will enter this event Aug. 22-Sept. 2 as the favorite, with Argentina expected to mount a serious challenge. The U.S. beat Argentina in the bronze-medal game in Japan.

The U.S. last hosted this event in 1992 in Portland, the site of the "Dream Team's," first gold. Puerto Rico hosted the event in 1980, 1999 and 2003. Brazil (1984), Uruguay (1988) and Argentina (1995) hosted the event as well. The U.S. didn't have to play in the 1995 event because it was the host country for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

Some roster changes for head coach Mike Krzyzewski of Duke are expected with the likely addition of the Lakers' Kobe Bryant and Detroit's Chauncey Billups to the 12-man team. Bryant was hurt last August while Billups stayed home to be with his newborn baby.

"We're excited and honored to have been selected to host this prestigious and important international basketball competition. Holding it in Las Vegas will help make this a memorable championship. This will be an incredible international event for basketball fans in Las Vegas and the surrounding areas," said Jerry Colangelo, managing director of USA Basketball's Senior National Team program.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com