The USA Basketball Men's National Team earns a lot of attention, what with many global icons playing together in the pursuit of national glory. It's like an All-Star game, just with more competitive drive and shiny medals as prizes.
Yet, despite having such a popular event, the NBA and FIBA have suggested that changes could be afoot. Specifically, they would mimic the structure of international soccer, making the Olympics an event for players under the age of 23 and turning the FIBA World Championships into a bigger event like the World Cup. It would mean more money for the involved parties, as well as a chance for basketball to compete for viewers without interference from the other Olympic events.
The players, however, are not huge fans. From Ian Whittell for the AFP:
"It's a stupid idea. It should be a (player's) choice," said [Kobe] Bryant, speaking at Manchester Town Hall ahead of the USA's Olympic friendly game against Great Britain on Thursday.
"The Olympics is really about putting the best athletes out there to compete against the best. From a basketball standpoint, it would lessen the Olympics, absolutely.
"I don't think they really discuss it much with us, we just discuss it like this, we kind of voice our opinions through you guys (media).
"We talk about it among ourselves. It's just a dumb idea." [...]
"I'm thankful they haven't thought about that now," said [Chris] Paul. "If that was the case, I wouldn't be able to play now. I'm 27 years old.
"I personally would like for it to be your own decision because playing in an Olympics, this will be my second, is the greatest experience of my life. I like having the option.
"If you look at the track record for it, I can honestly say my best season in the NBA statistically was the 2008-09 season which was after my first Olympics."
Well, that was pretty blunt, wasn't it? The Olympics have enough importance now that it makes sense for players to react to any change in structure poorly. However, the ultimate plan is for the move towards a World Cup system to give the World Championships that same level of prestige, at least in theory.
Yet it'd be foolish to think that the NBA and FIBA can make the World Championships into such a huge event just because they want to. The FIFA World Cup is as big as it is in part because it has history in its favor — players honor the idea of following in the paths of legends like Pele, Diego Maradona, and Zinedine Zidane. In basketball, the Olympics have effectively earned that respect, both because of the great impact of the 1992 Dream Team and the prior participation of all-time greats like Oscar Robertson and Jerry West as collegians. The Olympics mean something because over time we have agreed that they mean something. That can't be changed overnight just because a few corporations and governing bodies think it's a good idea. Turning the event into a secondary competition (i.e., one that teams won't want their players to participate in, just like in FIFA) might not go over so well.
What that means, basically, is that the World Cup idea will only work if the players are on board with it, the public has been prepared for it, and the Olympics lose some of their luster. That process would likely take years. So if this nascent idea doesn't happen quite yet, that doesn't mean it has failed. By floating the concept out there, David Stern and his colleagues might really be preparing us for changes that would come well into the future.
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