FIBA Basketball World Cup’s greatest moments have always had one constant — a Molten basketball

From the North American streets to the parks in Europe and the arenas in Asia, basketball is everything. And nothing represents the passion, emotion and pride for the game like the FIBA Basketball World Cup.

From way back in the 1950s to the present day, basketball’s greatest global stars have left an indelible mark on the World Cup’s grand stage.

Through the triumphs, heartbreaks, tears of joy and historic feats, one constant has been present for 40 years of hoop memories — and that constant isn’t going anywhere. Molten and FIBA announced the renewal of their once-in-a-lifetime partnership, ensuring that the game players and fans have grown up watching, as well as the stories that will be told in the future, will be written with the iconic ball and brand that has been a part of so many unforgettable moments.

Dating back to the 1950s, Molten has been a manufacturer of quality sports balls and equipment. While hoop heads will be familiar with Molten’s state-of-the-art basketballs, the company’s craftsmanship has extended to handball, football and volleyball. Molten’s products don’t just stop at balls — their equipment has been used internationally in some of the top leagues and by some of the top teams globally.

Molten’s sports brand statement, “For the real game,” echoes what many who play the games at the highest levels hope to achieve. It’s also a testament to the thought, passion and attention to detail the company has put out since 1958.

And since 1958, Molten has continued to improve the game of basketball. After approving new ball regulations in 2004, the innovative company introduced a revolutionary 12-panels design which was co-developed by a world class Italian design firm, Giugiaro. The avant-garde design improves the visibility of the ball rotations, which along with improved materials and Molten’s proprietary technologies, players on the court can see exactly how a ball rotates, helping them be better prepared for the next actions.

The commitment to excellence and high quality product is what continues to make Molten a recognizable brand worldwide.

To commemorate the monumental deal, The Sporting News digs into the history of the FIBA Basketball World Cup and highlights some of the greatest moments, players and victories in the modern era of the tournament.

The greatest moments in FIBA Basketball World Cup history

To know where we’re going, you have to know where we started, and what better place to start highlighting the modern era of the FIBA Basketball World Cup, formerly known as the FIBA World Championship, than the 1982 edition in Colombia.

The event saw 13 countries from five different FIBA Zones (Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania) compete in five venues in five cities throughout Colombia. It drew names like former NBA player and head coach Doc Rivers, Brazilian great and the all-time leading scorer in basketball history Oscar Schmidt and three-time NBA champion with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, Bill Wennington.

It also saw the debut of a brand-new basketball that would help shape the game for future generations.

At that point in time, Molten had already established itself as the premiere ball for multiple events at the Olympics, including basketball, but at the 1982 FIBA World Cup, Molten made a statement by becoming the go-to basketball for the marquee international basketball event.

“Molten has always set out to be innovative and to attain excellence, and has been working closely with us for 40 years to achieve this,” said FIBA Secretary General Andreas Zagklis at a partnership celebration in 2022.

“As FIBA’s longest-standing partner, they have always been an important and valuable member of the FIBA Family. Molten basketballs are a crucial element for us as we attempt to take the game to new heights. I thank them for their commitment to basketball and to FIBA.”

And take it to new heights they did.

The 1982 World Championship saw the then-Soviet Union win its third world championship, besting the USA in the final by one single point. A shot from the U.S.’s Jim Thomas at the buzzer rimmed out, and Vladimir Tkatchenko vacuumed in the rebound and the championship for the Soviet Union.

The Americans would get revenge in the ensuing World Championship in 1986. This time, it was the U.S. on the right side of a close game, winning the gold medal match, 87-85. Hall of Famer David Robinson and two-time NBA champion Kenny Smith powered the U.S. to its second world championship.

As the game and the tournament grew, so did the constellation of stars. The 1994 FIBA World Championship looms large in the great history of the event. Why? It was the first time in World Cup history that current American NBA players would be eligible to play. Prior to that, only pros from leagues outside of the U.S. were allowed to compete at the World Cup as they were still considered amateur players.

In the three prior World Cups, Molten’s innovative ball was in the hands of many future NBA players. International stars such as Arvydas Sabonis, Drazen Petrovic, Toni Kukoc and Vlade Divac, all of whom went on to feature in the NBA, made memories at the World Cup with the iconic ball. And while NBA players got their paws on Molten’s rock in 1992 at the Olympics, the 1994 World Championships in Toronto ensured that it would be the norm at the biggest of international competitions.

Shaquille O'Neal won the tournament MVP at the 1994 Fiba World Championships.

The USA’s Dream Team 2, which featured Hall of Famers Shaquille O’Neal, Alonzo Mourning and Reggie Miller, rolled through the tournament, going a perfect 8-0 en route to the Americans’ third world championship.

Basketball would show itself to be a true global game when Russia upset the U.S. at the 1998 World Championship in the semifinals en route to a silver medal finish. The trend continued in 2002 in Indianapolis, Indiana when the United States failed to make the podium in its home nation as future legends of the game Dirk Nowitzki, Yao Ming and Manu Ginobili announced themselves on the global stage.

Dirk Nowitzki was named MVP of the 2002 FIBA World Championship.

A budding future Hall of Famer named Pau Gasol, who had just come off his first All-Star appearance in the NBA, powered Spain to its first-ever gold medal at the FIBA World Cup in 2006.

The World had caught up, but the United States aimed to remind everyone it would still be the dominant force in the game. Back-to-back FIBA World Championships led by the likes of Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, James Harden and Anthony Davis put the world on notice.

Stephen Curry helped Team USA to a FIBA World Cup gold in 2014.

The balance of power would shift one time when FIBA announced the expansion of the World Cup. 32 nations participated in the 2019 edition of the tournament, making it the largest to date. The increased participation made for more memories from a bigger pool of nations. But as has been the case for 40-plus years, the beat of the song that the players would be making remained the bounce of a Molten basketball.

The 19th edition of the FIBA Basketball World Cup is the second to feature 32 teams, but the first to have been played across three host countries.

Ricky Rubio was the tournament MVP in the 2019 FIBA World Cup.

The players and host nations may change, the game may evolve and the fans may grow older, but one constant remains, and will do so for the foreseeable future. One ball will continue to tell the stories that will live a lifetime.

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