Despite the title of this column, I don’t blame Bill Simmons one bit for trying his hand at television. When he took ESPN’s offer to work on NBA Countdown, he wanted his unique voice to reach more basketball fans, and he wanted to prove that a non-former player could hang with the cool kids who could speak from personal experience. Simmons had (and still has) many lumps as a TV personality, but it’s not like his time on NBA Countdown was a disaster. Well, a few moments were disasters. This one still makes me cringe more than The Situation at the Roast of Donald Trump.
Simmons’ departure from ESPN in 2015 meant that two things would happen: One, he’d continue to take shots at ESPN like a salty ex-girlfriend for months and months. Two, Simmons had his own show on HBO after getting paid a boatload of money, reportedly between $7 and $9 million per year.
Now that Any Given Wednesday has been canceled, it’s safe to say that HBO overpaid for the man who has consistently (and fairly) criticized NBA general managers for dishing out horrible contracts. Simmons will still have value to HBO sports going forward, but now Simmons’ best case scenario is that he and his contract become Rashard Lewis almost a decade ago, whose contract was rightfully panned by Simmons himself. Lewis got a contract that made no sense and was a huge overpay, but he still was a valuable part of an Orlando Magic team that did well enough to make the 2009 Finals. That’s what HBO is hoping for out of The Sports Guy right about now.
Bill Simmons’ mistake was not in taking his shot at TV. His mistake was almost completely abandoning his writing. Simmons seems to have forgotten where his bread is buttered. Let me ask you this: When you think of Bill Simmons and what he does now, is the first thing that comes to your mind “sportswriter?” For me, I now think of him as a TV guy who also runs a website. When your fans don’t think of your best skill when they think of you, that’s a problem, and it’s a problem that Simmons created for himself. He should have been writing last fall when he didn’t have TV show, his own columns need to be a bigger part of The Ringer, and he should have his own section on the top heading of the website like he did with Grantland. But his writing has become an afterthought, which is where Simmons deserves the most blame.
On last week’s Any Given Wednesday, Simmons did a bit on curses in sports. You should watch it here to know what I’m talking about, and the fact that it’s only 2.5 minutes makes up for the fact that it’s pretty bad. Simmons listed off the four biggest remaining curses with the undertone that it’s pretty easy to get fans to buy into any curse. Fittingly, the fourth curse that Simmons listed was actually fake. On TV, it was horrible. It didn’t work at all.
In writing, however, that would have been pretty funny. Bill Simmons was masterful with those relatable stories, tangents that somehow made sense, and creative arguments that always proved his point, like the one with curses. But his tone plays much better in writing than on TV. His proof that curses are easy to create would have been fantastic at the end of a paragraph, but it didn’t play at the end of a TV segment. Simmons’ still has at least 80-90% of the same smart, funny, and influential tone that he always did, but now you can’t find that tone in the medium that it actually works for. That was his one giant mistake throughout this whole ordeal, not giving TV a shot.
Well, this one is interesting. I declined to write about the Draftkings and Fanduel scandal of about a month ago because it all seemed to be a little bit blown out of proportion and because it seemed relatively easy to analyze. Yes, just about every step should be taken to prevent insider deals in any industry. Yes, those who did should be punished heavily. And yes, daily fantasy sports is clearly gambling.
Should it be banned in 49 states? Now that’s an interesting topic that actually has a debate within it. Your own answer might come down to your own personal politics on gambling, but it’s a more complicated issue than just gambling itself.
The only thing that bothers me unequivocally about this announcement is that it smells a lot like a PR job to some degree. here was Eric T. Schneiderman’s, the attorney general’s, statement on the immediately effective ban:
“It is clear that DraftKings and FanDuel are the leaders of a massive, multibillion-dollar scheme intended to evade the law and fleece sports fans across the country,” Mr. Schneiderman said, adding, “Today we have sent a clear message: not in New York, and not on my watch.”
That’s a blatant reach for PR if I’ve ever heard one. The phrase “Not on my watch” is nauseating because of the general corniness and douchiness (yep, that’s a word, look it up) behind it. I was gonna look up Schneiderman’s political career to see if he’s up for re-election soon, but then I remembered that it doesn’t matter. Any politician nowadays is always campaigning, and they’ll often put campaigning above solving real issues.
Regardless of the politics or political aspirations behind the move, the prohibition of FDS in New York is an important issue. If fantasy spots is basically gambling, should we outlaw it, or does the fact that it’s “basically” gambling and not the gambling we’ve always known allow it to scrape by? Should states be the ones to outlaw it individually, or should the federal government make a law that affects everyone outside of Nevada? And at the core of the issue, should any government even try to control online gambling at all in 2015?
That last question is the on that interests me the most, and my opinion on it has changed in the last few years. A factor that you’re unlikely to hear about during this news story is the prominence of sports gambling sites that do not have URLs from the United States. I use Bovada to place wagers on sports at a very small amount, and I can’t even remember the country in which the website is headquartered.
And that’s why I ultimately am against the prohibition of all this stuff. It’s only a matter of time until Americans can bet on some DFS site or a cousin of DFS that we don’t even know exists yet, only their URL will be in some country that you haven’t heard of since 7th grade geography class. At that point, let’s try to make sure that the American government can regulate whatever DFS sites we are using, right?
I’ll generally fall on the side of “If it’s gonna happen anyway and we can’t knock it out, then let’s legalize it, regulate it, and make sure that the government gets tax dollars from it.” Such similar arguments are made about marijuana nowadays, and I’m in favor of those, too. That’s where I fall on DFS. It has to be regulated, and the fact that it took until insider deals were being made to regulate it is laughable. And since it’s gambling, the states that regulate it should be allowed to get a piece of the action, the same way that the government used the end of prohibition to tax alcohol or that Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington DC have gotten million of tax dollars from legal marijuana.
You can’t remove every vice from society. But you can make sure that society benefits from the use of these vices. However possible that is in the case of Daily Fantasy Sites, that’s what the United States should do.
Please, don’t let politics make their way into sports when they’re not wanted.
That may sound weird from me, considering that a lot of what I write about on this site involves the “politics” of sports, whether it’s my general support of players unions, my resounding support of the NFL players union because of the way the owners own their wife and kids, or that I, like most of America, want the Washington Redskins to change their team name. Politics are going to rear their ugly head in sports at times, but that’s because certain aspects of sports touch on social issues that are off the field, and I’m very passionate about the crossroads where sports and social issues meet.
But that’s why I said “when they’re not wanted” in the opening sentence. Specifically, I don’t want politics to be involved at all with Tom Brady and who he endorses for President. Yesterday, Brady was asked about Trump’s support of him, and joked that he would like to have Trump as president so that he could play golf at the White House. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but that didn’t stop the internet from saying that Trump had gained a new political supporter and ally in the Patriots quarterback. My response?…
Shut up. Please, spare me. I don’t care who Tom Brady wants to be president, and my political views have nothing to with whose politics I do or don’t wanna hear about.
This isn’t a time for politics to be brought up in sports, because this isn’t a social issue in that sports either represent or have an integral role in our culture.
Sports, unlike politics, are a way that people with a common background can share a common bond because of their beliefs and feel like a community, and I don’t think anyone understands that more than Boston sports fans. You’ll never find a single person who agrees with you 100% politically, but you’ll definitely find thousands of fans at Gillette Stadium with whom you share a bond when you’re cheering for Tom Brady to throw his 4th TD pass on a night when the Pats put on one of the best pregame celebrations ever.
You know how it’s become kinda annoying that we now have to think of state taxes when analyzing where free agents might go every offseason? That’s another example of politics infiltrating sports where we don’t want them to, only that way is understandable. This one isn’t. It’s going to be maybe the most crazy election season ever because of Donald Trump himself, and we’re not even a year away from the election yet. If Tom Brady’s political beliefs start getting involved, it’s going to be exhausting. You know how exhausting Deflategate was for Pats fans? It’ll be way worse than that. And all because of a cause that’s only going to divide us as fans of the same team, which is the last thing that sports are about.
How many times have you heard someone say that they feel guilty for liking the NFL? If you spend time with sports fans who have any grasp of the real world, you’ve inevitably heard it often. I say all the time that loving the NFL makes me feel guilty. My friends say it. Sports radio callers say it. Bill Simmons says it often, when he’s not being suspended or letting his contract run out. Even Jon Stewart says it. (On another note, I miss Jon Stewart already.). But what we all have in common is an inability to break away from the NFL because the product is so damn amazing. They have us by the balls, and they know it. That’s why the owners keep employing Roger Goodell for $45ish million a year — no matter how badly he screws up, as long as he keeps taking the hits and making the league money, they’re happy to keep paying him, because they know that no serious screw up will actually cut into their profit margins.
But you already knew that. But what we often don’t think about is the NFL’s biggest water carrier of an organization: ESPN. Deflategate and they way they’ve handled it has been the best proof of ESPN not actually being based on journalism or fairness, but just bowing down to whoever makes them money. Chris Mortensen was used by the NFL and never corrected his original report or removed the original tweet about 11 of 12 Patriots balls being underinflated, then explained it by saying “Twitter, I’m still trying to figure it out,” even though he has tweeted almost 20,000 times. Then, a week ago, ESPN had Bill Polian and Mortensen on Sportscenter spewing lies about the Pats taping the Rams walkthrough in February 2002, which was an outright lie and got John Tomase in a lot of trouble, irreparably damaging his career. ESPN apologized for that in the middle of the night on their late Sportscenter. The Worldwide leader also swiftly reported that Brady had destroyed his phone, when in reality, based on everything else that we’ve seen and the way Brady defended that claim, I highly doubt that was the truth.
And just because us Pats fans have felt personally offended by DeflateGate, we can’t judge an organization solely based off of how they’ve acted in this case. But with ESPN, there are so, so many more examples of their lack of professionalism in an NFL-esque way. The best source for this information is James Andrew Miller’s book These Guys Have All the Fun. An ESPN worker also stated that one of her female higher-ups told her: “If I had a dollar for every time I was sexually harassed at ESPN, I’d be a millionaire.” Read this Deadspin post for more details.
Believe me, I could go on, but I want to get to the point. Do any small amount of research on your own and you will find tons of examples of ESPN’s ways that strikingly resemble the way the NFL acts, given the holier-than-thou way that both organizations act in so many ways and how strong of a stand they take against certain issues. People may remember Stephen A. Smith’s stupid choice of words regarding a woman’s “responsibility” not to get beaten, but I prefer to remember how ESPN waited for the public reaction to decide whether to suspend him, which is the exact same thing that Roger Goodell does.
And ESPN has us by the balls just like the NFL does. Sure, Fox Sports and NBC Sports and others are competitors… but not really. There’s no network that could match ESPN’s reach into wall to wall coverage and analysis of all sports. And we all know that, because we keep consuming their product. If I need to quickly know what’s going on in the world of sports, I check ESPN’s homepage for a few minutes. I’m guessing you do too.
Am I presenting a solution to this problem? Well, maybe a little, but not much. Just like everyone who says that the NFL has them hooked but they can’t do anything about it, it’s hard to do anything about ESPN having us on the line. There are competitors to ESPN in a way that there aren’t to the NFL in terms of pro football, but are we really gonna stop consuming ESPN’s products? I doubt it. It just sucks that ESPN carries the NFL’s water, and we all know that the latter organization is run without the morals that they should have, but now we have to realize that the former one does as well.
Sorry for the hiatus recently. Life has gotten in the way, but we’re back with a vengeance.
By now, you’ve probably heard that there was a locker room rift with the Seattle Seahawks surrounding Russell Wilson.
But actually, there wasn’t. The earlier rumors that Percy Harvin was traded because he was a big part in a pro/anti Russell Wilson divide in the locker room were found to be unsubstantiated, which should shock no one with an IQ above 50. Today, Chris Mortensen reported that Marshawn Lynch will likely not be back with the team next year, as they are growing tired of his antics. However, he also showed that not only were the rumors false, but Wilson tried to push management to keep Harvin on the roster. That shows you a lot.
What I don’t get is, why are people stupid enough to buy into this stuff? I get being a huge sports fan, of course, and I get wanting to know what’s going on behind the scenes. That’s why shows like NHL 24/7 are so awesome. But aren’t stories like the original one about the Seahawks divide so blatantly an example of the media trying to create storylines that may or may not be there?
Remember when the Patriots and Tom Brady had tension, according to a different Chris Mortensen report? Doesn’t that feel stupid now, and, looking back, can’t we tell that part of that was just the media wanting to stir the pot?
I guess I just don’t understand how everyone in the country can claim about how much the media sucks (The Daily Show, for example, is beloved by everyone and their mother), everyone in Boston knows that our sports media has an, uh… rough history, and yet everyone buys into a lot of crap that journalists spin. I’d rather get caught up in what Seattle’s chances are to reclaim the division from the Cardinals instead of whether or not other players in the Seahawks locker room would like to have some of Russell Wilson’s endorsements. (Hint: They all would.)
After Jamie Collins picked up AJ Green’s fumble that Darrelle Revis caused on Sunday night, he coughed it right back up. It fell into Fonzie Dennard’s hands, who kept running from the 25 yard line to the 3. Except, because it was under 2 minutes, and the NFL presumably wants to make sure that a last ditch attempt to lateral the ball all the way to a touchdown doesn’t get filed with 10 fumbles, the play was blown dead at the 25.
Think that rule is dumb? Of course it is. I tweeted that it’s right up there with the Tuck Rule, which Patriots fans will refer to as the “Greatest dumb rule of all time,” in terms of stupidity. Let’s do a quick power rankings of the dumbest rules in the 4 big professional sports, as well as the biggest sports worldwide.
Honorable Mention: The Tuck Rule
You’re supposed to put honorable mentions at the end. But I couldn’t hold back. The Tuck Rule is gone as of a few years ago, but the Pats a Super Bowl Based off of this one. HAHAHAHA.
1) NHL – The Intent to Blow, aka the “Dead in the Head” Rule.
This one gets the top spot, simply because it’s amazing that this rule exists. Whenever there’s a pileup at the net and a player finally knocks the puck in (legally), we still can’t be sure that it’s a goal. There’s a chance that the refs can claim that they had the intent to blow the whistle, meaning the play was dead when the ref should have called it. Here’s a better idea, refs. If you want to blow the whistle… blow it. At that point, the refs should have the whistles in their mouths already (Seems like I’m getting dangerously close to making a sexual joke, but I don’t do it.), so they should be able to do it pretty quickly without thinking.
2) NFL – The fact that the NFL still has kickoffs, but from the 35 yard line.
Now that every kicker is expected to get a touchback on every single kickoff and that players are usually tackled at about the 17 yard line when they take the ball out of the end zone, there is no point for kickoffs. Either go back to the good old days when Devin Hester could be one of the most important players in the entire league when kickoffs were from the 30, or ban kickoffs altogether. There’s no reason for them, and it just means that we get a touchdown with an automatic review that occasionally takes a few more seconds, an extra point (also completely unnecessary in 2014), a commercial, a meaningless kickoff, and then another commercial. The NFL hedged with kickoffs, and this is exactly the kind of rule on which you should not hedge at all.
3) Soccer – The lack of any punishment for diving.
I’m not saying that David Stern’s idea of fining players $5k for flopping works perfectly. I’m pretty sure that LeBron would gladly sacrifice $5000 in order to cost the opposition a possession late in an NBA Finals game. But at least it’s something, and soccer is the sport that most needs “something.” A huge reason that Americans can’t get into soccer is that the players are flopping like fishes. And as much as it feels weird for an American and a casual soccer fan to criticize the fact that many Europeans and Central/South Americans view the diving in soccer as part of the game or maybe even an art, well… they’re wrong. Athletes should decide the outcome of a game by doing actual athletic things.
4) NHL – The enforcer in hockey.
I debated making this one the top overall, but I do actually see where the thinking from this one originated. If you’re teammate beats the snot out of someone, then you could be energized a little, right? Well, when you think about it for a little longer, no, it’s not true, and that’s why the rule belongs on this list. If Shawn Thornton (so long, what a beast you were) beats the crap out of, say, Dale Weise (what a wuss), it’s not going to make Milan Lucic, the kind of guy who actually does useful things for his team, play better. What might help Lucic play better is if Lucic himself beats up a guy, maybe increasing his confidence and decreasing the confidence of the guys who are actually on the ice against him. This is why I don’t want fighting outlawed entirely, but the enforcer needs to be gone. Make a maximum of 8 fights a year per player for the regular season and 10 total for the regular season and playoffs.
5) MLB – The Catwalk rule in Tampa Bay.
Sure, this one barely happens, which is why it’s ranked number 5. But it’s indefensibly stupid. Do I even have to explain why? I’m gonna guess not.
Two days after Bill Simmons got a ton of people behind him, myself included, for going after Roger Goodell and daring ESPN to come back at him, ESPN decided to do just that by suspending the Sports Guy for 3 weeks.
There’s a reason that the decision took 2.5 days. While it’s fair to say that an employee shouldn’t be allowed to run a business, and while Simmons shouldn’t have challenged the higher ups at ESPN should have just ended the rant with his opinions on Roger Goodell, ESPN really suspended Simmons because they carry the NFL’s water no matter how despicable the league and its commissioner acts. It’s too important for ESPN to know that Adam Schefter will be the first guy reporting everything than to allow one of their employees to have an independent mind.
Also, this is a classic dick swinging contest at this point. Simmons feels that he has a ton of leverage after all he’s done for ESPN, which includes making Page 2 what it was, beating the crap out of Rick Reilly when Reilly was brought in and got paid more, and starting Grantland. ESPN feels that Simmons can’t and won’t go up against the Worldwide Leader, and I’m guessing that all of their assumed leverage comes from Grantland specifically. Grantland allows Simmons to be who he wants (for the most part) and run his own site, and ESPN doesn’t think that BS will give that up. Here’s to hoping that Simmons doubles down and either moves on or comes back stronger than ever after swinging his dick a little bit farther than Bristol’s finest.
Remember the days when Bill Simmons was suspended from Twitter for 2 weeks for taking shots at Glen Ordway? Yeah, that was fun.
I speak nostalgically because those days are long gone, as the Sports Guy proved yesterday with his weekly podcast with Cousin Sal. Simmons went off on Roger Goodell and more specifically the media covering the commissioner’s horrible past few months. Here are some of the tidbits from the podcast:
“Goodell, if he didn’t know what was on that tape, he’s a liar,” Simmons said Monday. “I’m just saying it. He is lying. I think that dude is lying. If you put him up on a lie detector test that guy would fail. For all these people to pretend they didn’t know is such fucking bullshit. It really is — it’s such fucking bullshit. And for him to go in that press conference and pretend otherwise, I was so insulted. I really was.”
“I really hope somebody calls me or emails me and says I’m in trouble for anything I say about Roger Goodell,” he said. “Because if one person says that to me, I’m going public. You leave me alone. The commissioner’s a liar and I get to talk about that on my podcast.”
Let’s be real: Bill Simmons isn’t quite throwing 98 mph on the black like he once was, and some of the reasons why are pretty understandable. First, it’s hard to keep your game up for that long, both from a motivation standpoint and because there are now sooo many sportswriters that it’s more difficult to make your own work stand out. What’s more is that Simmons is now doing more, giving him less time to actually write. He’s now covering the NBA full time during the season, still helping produce 30 for 30, and, oh yeah, running Grantland. For so many at the top of their game, part of becoming huge and growing your brand is leaving behind a little bit of what made you famous in the first place, and that’s ok.
But there are other reasons to only be in the back of the Simmons bandwagon in 2014, rather than driving it like I was about 5-7 years ago. You can bank on the Sports Guy clumsily (or casually, in Simmons’ mind) name dropping celebrities or mentioning the fact that he was at an ESPYs party despite the conversation having nothing to do with something like that. He’s defensive, as Charlie Pierce learned – although Pierce both fired back nicely and then joined Grantland relatively soon after. (Deadspin has the full details here.) And we all remember him being offended that he hadn’t spoken in awhile on set with Doug Collins and Jalen Rose. By the way, did you know that Bill Simmons is friends with Jalen Rose? I know, right??!! How cool is Bill Simmons??!!
But this recent rant made me move up a little bit on the BS Bandwagon, even if that sounds like a dumb name that he would create and then pretend that it’s good. Simmons knows what leverage is, and he used it. He’s always clashed with ESPN over what’s acceptable and the way that the Worldwide Leader covers certain subjects, and he decided that this one was just too far. Simmons decided to use his leverage to promote an idea that he views as moral and full of journalistic integrity… and I love it.
Nowadays, there’s way too much of a necessity to stay below deck with your own company’s brand, therefore forfeiting your independence and diminishing your overall credibility. Less than 2 years ago, Simmons was again suspended from Twitter (what a joke of a punishment, right?) for basically saying “If you don’t like First Take, don’t watch.” Completely pathetic. Now, Simmons is going after his own brand because they deserve it… and because he knows that he can. No one wants to be on the other side of “You should punish a wifebeater,” and Simmons knows that he can paint ESPN as the appeaser if they try to come at him and he reports what they said to him.
If someone is going to throw their weight around and use their leverage, it better be for a good cause. Hating Roger Goodell definitely qualifies, so I’m on board with Simmons 100% here.
Officially speaking, ESPN suspended Dan Le Batard for 2 full days for renting billboard space saying “You’re welcome LeBron — Love, Miami” in Cleveland.
But that’s the problem with this story. Everything is too official. To put it in human terms, Le Batard was suspended for doing something that people didn’t completely like and ruffled a few feathers, and The Worldwide Leader is not going to stand for something that a handful of their viewers might not like, because they have a track record of not acting, but reacting.
Now, I think that a lot of shots at ESPN are ridiculous. With just about any organization that dominates its industry, as does ESPN with sports media, people are quick to launch grenades at all the wrongdoings that a company exhibits. This is especially true in 2014, when sports as a whole are on the rise and any jackass can get a Twitter account and a blog through something like wordpress.com. (Yes, that was a shot at myself. Just trying to show that everyone lives in a glass house with this kind of stuff.) But, while many like to get on ESPN’s case a little too much, what happened here with Le Batard represents a situation that Bristol’s very own has often demonstrated.
In one of Jason Whitlock’s best pieces, he properly criticized ESPN (Whitlock criticizing ESPN before working there again? I’m shocked.) for how they handled the Rob Parker “RG3 isn’t black enough” controversy. As Whitlock pointed out, ESPN had no issue with the opinion that Parker expressed right up until the internet started calling Parker out. They even reran the segment later in the day during their highlights of the morning show. Despite my feelings that Parker’s comments were not only asinine but also detrimental to race issues in America, it would be nice if ESPN stood by him during the backlash like they had when he originally said those stupid words.
The Parker and Le Batard situations also remind me of how ESPN handled the Brent Musburger – Katherine Webb controversy. While it’s fair to say that Musburger went out of line — I’m not saying I agree with that, but see the logic behind the point of view — ESPN might care to remember the fact that they chose to have 1 of their 40,000 cameras for the National Championship Game on AJ McCarron’s smokeshow of a girlfriend… and Musburger seemed to now know that. I sorta kinda feel like if ESPN had a problem with what Musburger, their number 1 college football announcer, said, then they might wanna shoulder some of the blame for creating a situation in which Musburger would make such a remark.
Note: For my opinion on the Musburger-Webb controversy, please refer to Fred Toucher’s wonderful rant in the aftermath. I don’t think that anyone who disagrees with Toucher and me is a moron, as I do see the logic, but his points of debate are clearly better than the other side, in my view. His rant is also germane this Le Batard situation.
The final example is the recent Stephen A. Smith fiasco. While I obviously think Smith’s comments on how a woman can provoke a beating were stupid, wasn’t it a little weird that Smith was suspended only after the apology? Suspending a guy for making comments that dumb, especially about such a sensitive gender issue as domestic violence, is only fair, but didn’t it seem like they were suspending him for people not accepting Stephen A.’s apology as much as ESPN had hoped.
What Dan Le Batard did didn’t break any rules, and I don’t think it was “in bad taste,” which is the kind of phrase that is used by people who are way too sensitive about everything approximately 90% of the time. ESPN suspended Le Batard just because the stunt didn’t help ratings, and it rubbed some of these “in bad taste” ultra-sensitive people the wrong way. According to ESPN, that’s enough of a reason to suspend a guy. But the fact that he was suspended a grand total of 2 days should show you that ESPN doesn’t really have a huge issue with what Le Batard did — they are doing it just because you can’t color outside the lines at all when you work for the worldwide leader. Having a personality and being a tiny bit unexpected isn’t right for corporations of America in 2014, and ESPN is a prime example.
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.