David Stern and the NBA owners are going to have a much tougher hill to climb to sell the idea of an under-23 Olympics tournament than they thought. They can’t just lock everyone out until they get their way this time.
The players hate the idea and spoke out unanimously against it. Fans hate it — and showed they liked the current format by tuning in with the biggest ratings for the gold medal game in more than a decade.
And FIBA Secretary General and IOC member Patrick Baumann shot down the under-23 idea in no uncertain terms in an interview on FIBA’s web site, something first noticed by Chris Sheridan of SheridanHoops.com.
Baumann’s first reason is that if you think the USA has an unfair advantage sending its NBA players, that’s nothing compared to the under-23 gap.
From a global perspective, the progress of the talent in all other countries doesn’t go at the same speed or the same pace as the USA. They don’t all have a school system like the USA. So the ability for the rest of the world to produce a lot of talent is not the same as the USA. As a result of that, lowering the age to U23 at the Olympics could actually widen the divide between the USA and the rest of the world.
There is also a more general issue of what the Olympic Games represent. The NBA, the IOC and FIBA, we have all earned a lot – not just in financial terms – from professional athletes being at the Olympics since 1992. This is the case with regards to the way basketball has grown, from where we were then to where we are now.
So it would be premature to make changes in the quality of basketball at the Olympics, especially before having maximised the potential of the World Cup. So it’s too early to make any changes in the Olympic programme.
FIBA’s main man does talk about boosting the profile of the existing World Cup of Basketball and of petitioning to add 3-on-3 basketball for the next Olympics games. But he’s not touching the tournament age limit.
You can bet Stern and the owners are still going to try and push it, still try to pump up the World Cup by partnering with FIBA, by trying to offer the one thing they have the most of — money.
NBA owners see all the money the Olympics generate and they want a piece of it for using “their” players. They would never phrase it that way, but that is the reality of their actions on this. They see the money and they want a cut, and they think partnering with FIBA can get them that. (Well, not Mark Cuban, he wants the NBA to strike out on its own with an international tournament.)
They all miss on how the Olympics is a much bigger stage to promote their product than one they could create themselves in a World Cup — there were 40 current and former NBA players in the Olympic tournament and they were the cream of the crop, including 21 in the gold medal game. The World Cup of Basketball will never be the platform and draw the Olympics are based both on tradition and on the fact that the Olympics are more than just hoops.
And that really is the best part of the Olympic experience for basketball — it is part of something bigger than itself. Kobe Bryant and LeBron James and Kevin Durant are hanging out with cyclists and rowers at the opening ceremonies, they are showing up to watch beach volleyball, they are representing our nation the right way.
Sometimes it’s about more than money. Or, at least it should be.