One reason why so many tune in to watch men’s Olympic basketball is because they can see players like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul play for the Team USA and other NBA superstars, including Tony Parker (France), Pau Gasol (Spain) and Manu Ginobili (Argentina), play for their respective countries. But, if the NBA powers-that-be have their way, that could end soon.
New York Times writer Jeré Longman is in London covering the Olympics and joined Only A Game to discuss the issue of NBA players on the Olympic basketball court, something with which commissioner David Stern and NBA owners have several problems.
“They’re concerned, especially with foreign players, that they’re having to play too many games in the offseason for their national teams, leaving them tired and prone to injury for the NBA season,” Longman said.One alternative to the present system would have each country sending a team of players under the age of 23 to the Games. Soccer at the Olympics is already a “U-23” competition with three “over age” players allowed per team. But having seen the world’s greatest players every four years since 1992, it’s hard to imagine the Games being the same without them.
“I think there’s some feeling that the NBA does not belong in the Olympics, that it overshadows a lot of other sports,” Longman said. “I do think the Dream Team in ’92 helped to expand world basketball…Clearly the NBA has benefited from having their players in the Olympics.”
Longman has written that Commissioner Stern might like to see a basketball equivalent to soccer’s World Cup. Meanwhile, FIFA, international soccer’s governing body, is proposing to lower the age restrictions on Olympic participation to 21, to further protect the brand of its quadrennial competition. Does either organization really have anything to fear from unrestricted Olympic participation?
“The soccer World Cup is such a huge event,” Longman said. “It’s much bigger than the Olympics. It’s much more popular around the world…The soccer season goes for 10 months. They’re already playing exhibition games. Maybe in the sense of fatigue, that’s what they fear. I think the NBA may have more to lose by preventing its players from coming to the Olympics.”