First Paul George suffers an injury that would make a few people throw up if it wasn’t for the Kevin Ware injury a year and a half ago, and now Kevin Durant is leaving Team USA because he’s exhausted.
You know how the writing is on the wall for the NCAA not paying its high level athletes? Team USA basketball seems to be on that path, albeit at a much more minor level. There’s the injury concern (Paul George), the concern that the star athletes who already have a lot of miles on them (LeBron, Bosh, etc.) don’t want to play for the team, the concern that a guy who is even considering trade talks doesn’t want to play (Kevin Love), and now that concern that even young guys don’t want to put any more wear and tear on their tires (Durant, and don’t forget about Kawhi Leonard).
Add all that up, and all the reasons you need to suggest that Team USA basketball is on the decline as far as international tournaments go. Mark Cuban and the other owners are understandably concerned about their investment in the players, and the NBA is always going to have more pull with this kinda stuff than FIBA. After all, if it wasn’t for the NBA and its players in 1992, FIBA would be a shell of itself today.
I’m not saying that this is the end of USA or NBA players competing internationally, but soon it’ll be the end of the international competitions as we know it. While Cuban said he didn’t want to kill international events completely, as he stated that he wants the owners to make their own tournament separate from FIBA, he doesn’t want NBA athletes to compete at all: “All things being equal, it’s fun to watch us play Argentina and Spain, but it would be just as fun if they were 21 and under.”
That’s where I disagree, and that’s where I start to worry. I have no ties towards FIBA — or FIFA, for that matter. Not when both of those organizations have been riddled with conspiracy and corruption. But I do want to see international competition with the best that each country has to offer. While Mark Cuban could run circles around me in anything related to business, I think he’s thinking too much from his own business perspective in this case, and not from the overall perspective of basketball as a business. There’s just no way that it would be as fun to watch Team USA play Argentina or Spain if the players were either not old enough or barely old enough to drink inside our borders.
And how fun those games to watch are directly proportional to how much the sport grows. Did you see how much of a big deal LeBron was in the days leading up to the World Cup Final in Brazil. Seriously, after the entire country stopped crying about their semifinal embarrassment — or at least put it on hold for a few minutes — they all went to wherever LeBron was just to look at him and stare. Back in 1992, a player who was fouled by Michael Jordan started to tear up at the free throw line because the greatest basketball player ever touched him. There is no chance that whoever is the top recruit out of high school this year would have that kind of draw. And if the NBA is really serious about becoming even more of a global sport than they already are, they can’t rely on anyone other than the best to make that happen.
And where this really worries me has nothing to do with basketball. It has to do with hockey. As much as I like to watch Team USA in basketball tournament of the Summer Olympics, I love to watch Team USA in February a whole lot more. And there are now serious doubts that the NHL will let its players go over to South Korea in 2018. Remember, many teams in the NBA and NHL have the same owners, or the owners are at least in contact with each other from sharing arenas or other connections of that sort. That’s partly why the NBA owners held so firm during the lockout 3 years ago: They knew they could because of how bad the NHL owners had owned the players in the 2005 lockout. All it takes is one owner mentioning the John Tavares injury from this past February in conjunction with Paul George’s horrific injury last week, and then you have both NBA and NHL owners on the bandwagon of not sending the players.
I need to watch Team USA in the Olympics every fourth February. Actually, I feel like I need to watch it every 2 or 3 Februarys, but there’s a better chance of Bill Belichick paying a past-his-prime running back above market value than that happening. I just hope that both NBA and NHL owners can realize how important their stars are to a global product. There’s no way that kids in Argentina care as much about basketball without Manu Gibobili, and there’s no way that anyone in Slovenia — which has fewer hockey rinks than Mexico, no BS — cares about hockey if not for Anze Kopitar. At the very least, FIBA and the IOC should either give some money to the NBA or NHL for the rights to use their players, and they should earmark some of the money for the teams that lose a player like Paul George or John Tavares. But that’s not a reason to kill the entire system. There’s some middle ground that we can find in order to keep the players in international competition.