Portugal nearly joined the field of the first European championship, but in the only qualification game held for the tournament the Portuguese lost 33–12 to the Spanish team in Madrid. The game was curiously referred by the Spanish coach Mariano Manent.
Portugal's European Championship debut was at EuroBasket 1951 in Paris, where they were invited to play in the tournament. Both of their preliminary round games were losses, though they did get an official win in Romania's forfeit to finish 1–2 and third place in the group.
In the first classification round, Portugal managed a win against Switzerland in a major upset, 51–49, but nevertheless finished in fourth and last place of the classification round group with a 1–2 record. They then lost to Denmark in the second round classification 13–16 game, but defeated Scotland in the 15/16 game to place 15th of 18 teams.
In the preliminary round, Portugal lost its first two matches against Spain and Croatia by 56–82 and 68–90, respectively. Before the third and last match of its group, Portugal had to defeat Latvia by, at least, sixteen points; alternatively, a victory would suffice provided Croatia defeated the World champions, Spain, in their last match. Portugal won by only ten points, but since Croatia grabbed a surprising one-point victory, with a three-pointer in the last three seconds, Portugal qualified for the first time ever to the second round.
Portugal began this round playing against Russia, that had won all games in its preliminary group; the Portuguese were defeated by 65–78. Israel was the next opponent and, like in the qualification, Portugal once again defeated them, by 94–85, putting up their best performance in the tournament. This second victory revived Portugal's chances to reach the quarterfinals; a simple victory in the last match against the holders of the EuroBasket 2005 and 2006 FIBA World Championship runners-up Greece would be enough, if Croatia defeated Russia (otherwise, Greece would have to lose by at least thirteen points). However, Greece displayed a consistent and stronger game play, beating naturally the Portuguese by 67–85 and ending their qualification hopes. Nevertheless, it was the best performance ever by a Portuguese national basketball team at this level, ensuring a spot in the ten best European teams.