If NBA owners get their way - and though I wish otherwise, they almost certainly will - this very likely will be the last Olympic Games that will include pro basketball’s greatest players representing their countries.
While owners say their biggest concern is the kind of medical treatment some of the NBA’s best international players get when they play for home countries - especially since many of those high-dollar players play an inordinate number of minutes as they carry the burden of their respective teams - I think just as much of a factor is that the owners don’t get a share in the profits and would rather see their own Word Cup of Basketball be the only showcase for top-name international basketball competition.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said as much Sunday when he told Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo!Sports: “The Olympics are a huge for-profit endeavor. It makes no sense that NBA owners subsidize it.”
On the opposite side of the coin are NBA players, especially the Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant who told the assembled press after Team USA overwhelmed France, 98-71, in their Olympic opener: “Why is this an issue again?”
He told how the Lakers bonded as a team - and went on to win the NBA title again - thanks to the shared experiences he and Pau Gasol had playing for their countries in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
By the way, this time around Gasol was the flag bearer for Spain in Friday night’s Opening Ceremony and Getty images circulated some great shots from the same ceremony showing Bryant walking into the Olympic Stadium with Holley Mangold, the very big and equally colorful weightlifter from Alter High.
The first time NBA players suited up for U.S. Olympic team was in 1992 when Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and the rest of the wondrous Dream Team marched to gold in Barcelona. At these Olympic Games, there are 41 current NBA players on the 12 teams in the tournament. That’s almost 30 percent of the players in London.
The owners would rather see that talent playing in the new World Cup format it is unveiling. That way they could reap the financial rewards of such a showcase event.
To pull that off, the NBA is trying hammer out a deal with FIBA to make the Olympics a completely under-23 tournament.
Granted, along with making money, there is also the owners’ concern of protecting the millions of dollars they already have invested in the biggest name players.
Owners worry about a star getting injured during his Olympic commitment and missing parts or all of the NBA season. They think the chances of that happening especially increase when some foreign NBA stars play for their home countries and feel pressured to be on the court, no matter what. The other night for example Kobe Bryant only played 12 minutes for the U.S. But the French team was carried by San Antonio star Tony Parker and he played most of the game.
In the past Parker has often played when hobbled for France, including once with a broken finger. And according to Yahoo! Spurs center Francisco Elson once was cleared to play by the Netherlands even though he had a fractured eye socket. Manu Ginobili tore an ankle ligament for Argentina in the 2008 Olympics and needed surgery. And leading up to these Games, Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin tore the meniscus in his left knee and needed surgery. .
The owners - who are obligated to pay guaranteed contracts - want to have a say in the way Olympic medical staffs treat those players and clear them to play when they have been hurt.
“In the especially poorer countries, they don’t always have the national team doctor at the tournament with them, and they’re using a freelance doctor who may have or not have experience with sports injuries, nor the understanding of the risk-rewards of clearing a guy to play who has a $100 million contract,” Spurs general manager R.C. Buford told Yahoo! during the 2008 Games.
How often that happens is up for debate. Although the issues are very real, it seems that could be worked out between the NBA and FIBA if both sides truly wanted to save the Olympic format. But I think the league is also looking for an excuse to push its marquee players into the World Cup instead so the owners get a big financial return.
As for the Olympics, NBA basketball would then resemble soccer.
Look at the Olympic competition in London. The format now requires all but three members of each team required to be 23 or under.
As Mark McClusky of the Wired World of Sports noted: “One of the central ironies of the 2012 Summer Games, held in one of the greatest soccer cites on Earth, is that essentially no one cares about Olympic soccer. Why? Because the vast majority of the best players aren’t here.” By the next Olympics that almost certainly will be the case with basketball, as well.Tweet