In his near 3 decades as NBA Commissioner David Stern has at times been misguided, conspiratory, overbearing, greedy and contemptuous but rarely has the commissioner been stupid. Still, as Kobe Bryant surmised as much in assessing Stern’s desire to limit NBA participation in the Olympics to those 23-years old or younger, many seem to agree that the commissioner’s idea is stupid.
The United States never took kindly to losing in the international game, and in 1992 set out to prove their dominance on the world stage despite the fact that said dominance was already universally acknowledged. The result was the Dream Team and the 20 years of basketball history that has followed. The US while no less dominant is no longer the lone source of NBA talent, and the NBA has benefited immensely from the influx of global superstars to their ranks.
It’s probably safe to say now though that the Dream Team era has run its course and the excitement of seeing the NBA’s best on the Olympic stage has dampened. The NBA’s global reach is constantly growing as foreign-born players in the league’s ranks continue to compel new eyes to the game. It’s probably safe to assume that the risk/reward equation that the NBA once embraced in an effort to gain international exposure is now upside down and as a result the league is rethinking their growth philosophy.
One other thing has changed since the 1992 Dream Team. When the Dream Team was conceived, the NBA and the Olympics were both the broadcast property of NBC. Surely the NBA had a lot less issue with offering up their talent (essentially donating it) to the crown jewel sports property of their own broadcast partner than they do now, as the NBA has moved to ABC and recently agreed to stay there through 2016. Safe money suggests that ABC can’t be altogether happy about paying premium dollars to broadcast NBA games then watching the best talent compete for free while making money for rival NBC in the Olympics.
Now that the NBA has reached global status, it’s time to take another step forward. If you’re looking for a model to follow in growing a game worldwide look no further than FIFA and the world’s soccer scene for an ideal path to follow.
International soccer teams don’t send their best to the Olympics. They send very good players, but the best are reserved for World Cups and the like where FIFA stands to make the lion’s share of the money. Make no mistake; putting an age limit on Olympic participation is only step one for the NBA. The logical step two would be to create their own international tournament, own it, and pocket the money rather than providing talent to NBC and the Olympics. That’s not stupid.
Also, if the NBA limited its players, from all countries, from participating in the Olympics after age 23 it would only further stack the Olympic deck in favor of the US which still enjoys a seemingly endless supply of young talent, while other countries with less NBA players to begin with would lose most of their top end talent to the age limit.
From a competitive standpoint, the US would likely continue to shine while the rest of the world takes big steps back. From a US interest standpoint, it might be fun to see younger, more excitable, more anonymous players showing and proving on the international stage instead of the same collection of talent we see year after year at the All-Star game. There are some (myself included) who would much rather watch the rookie/sophomore game than the actual All-Star game on the NBA’s All-Star weekend.
Here’s my 12 man, 23 and under roster for the US this year. Not bad.
Notable Players Left Out for Injuries
Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving and Blake Griffin
Kevin Love, DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan, Greg Monroe, Anthony Davis
Kevin Durant, Evan Turner, Gordon Hayward
Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Jrue Holliday, Brandon Jennings
Notable Players Left Out
Tyler Zellar, Derrick Favors, Kenneth Faried, Al Farouq-Aminu, Kawai Leonard, Terrence Jones, Derrick Williams, Michael Kidd-Gilcrest, Thomas Robinson, Tyreke Evans, Kemba Walker, John Wall, Jeremy Lin, Brandon Knight, Eric Gordon, Paul George, Josh Selby