Today, I learned about David Stern’s position that the Olympics be restricted to a U-23 tournament (like soccer, but without the exceptions) because the NBA teams are loaning out players to international competitions for free. In an article on www.sheridanhoops.com, deputy commissioner is quoted as saying, “So when you have the Olympics, the World Cup of Basketball, we are taking a very close look at whether it makes sense from an NBA standpoint and a global basketball standpoint for the top players to be playing at that level on a year round basis. So what we have told FIBA, and what David has announced several times, is that we are all in through the London Olympics, and then post-London Olympics, we want to step back together with USA Basketball, led by Jerry Colangelo and Patrick Baumann in FIBA and … we need to take a long-term view of what makes sense both for the NBA and for the game.” I also read Patrick Minton’s post at www.thenbageek.com which attacks this viewpoint. I am going to write an article with a similar position, but for different reasons.
Why would anyone want this? The Dream Team put basketball back on the map. Silver mentions the World Cup of Basketball (formerly known as the World Championships). The problem is that nobody actually watches the World Cup of Basketball that I have ever met. I can tell you that we beat Turkey in Turkey last time, and that’s just about all I can definitively say off the top of my head. And that’s a lot compared to (I’m sure) most people.
However, everyone watches the Olympics. They are broadcast all over the world. People are intrigued. They (they being the Summer Olympics) are held in marquee cities like Athens, Beijing, and London. By comparison, the last three World Cups were held in Indianapolis; Saitama, Japan; and Istanbul. What major tournament is held in Indianapolis (besides the Final Four)? Even Istanbul and Madrid (the host of the 2014 edition) don’t measure up to London! When you think Madrid, you think Real Madrid and capital of Spain. When you think London, there’s Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, England in general, etc.
Other than soccer, what other sport uses the Olympics to showcase its U-23’s? Soccer can do it because its World Cup is so huge that it’s almost ridiculous. Let’s face it, basketball is only truly popular in China, the U.S. (and Puerto Rico), and parts of Europe. Even in the latter area, soccer trumps basketball in popularity to a phenomenal degree. Let’s take Spain for an example (the second-best basketball-playing nation in the world). Its largest basketball stadium in the Liga ACB, Caja Laboral’s at 15,374, has a smaller capacity than La Liga’s smallest, Rayo Vallecano’s at 15,489. Seriously!
Besides, the international basketball environment is becoming more competitive. In their 2008 Olympic run, Spain had seven one-time NBA players on the roster. Puerto Rico has beaten the USA in the Olympics, albeit that we Americans had a poor roster that year. (Hunt around in the Wages of Wins archives for more details.) In the last three Basketball World Cups, only the US has medaled multiple times, and we lost in the quarterfinals one year! International play is about asserting your dominance in a particular sport. I don’t even see why the NBA should have the option to block Olympic entry; I mean, the NBA is affiliated with FIBA. The Olympics are about pride; why should we deny ourselves the pride of a tournament well won?
I think the whole idea is absolutely ridiculous, especially since the Olympics occur during the offseason. Just let the players play. Besides, they can always refuse if they don’t want to go!