Postponed for a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Tokyo Olympics are set to begin July 23, 2021. While there are still plenty of logistical questions to be answered, the games are moving forward.
NBA players likely will not be there.
The next NBA season will not start until January of 2021 (at the earliest). In an interview on NBATV Friday night before Game 2 of the NBA Finals, Commissioner Adam Silver said it is unlikely the NBA will take an NHL-style break so its players can take part in the Olympics.
“I think it’s unlikely, at the end of the day, that, if we start late, we would stop for the Olympics,” Silver said. “Because, as you know, it’s not just a function of stopping for the period in which they are competing over in Tokyo. But they require training camp, and then they require rest afterwards.”
NBA owners (for whom Silver works) took a financial hit this season, losing the final 20% of the season and having the playoffs inside a bubble without fans. Those owners want a full 82-game schedule next season with fans in the buildings for as much of it as possible. That means starting later, with a season that likely runs past the opening of the Olympics and an entire playoffs still ahead.
While no NBA players in the Tokyo Olympics would hurt Team USA, it would devastate other countries whose best players are in the league and don’t have the depth of talent America does. What does the French team look like without Rudy Gobert, Evan Fournier, Frank Ntilikina, and Nicolas Batum? Or Australia without Ben Simmons, Patty Mills, Joe Ingles, and Aron Baynes. What about Spain without Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, and Juan Hernangomez. Even host Japan would be without Rui Hachimura.
“There are so many incredible players, beginning with the USA team, we’ll be able to field a very competitive team,” Silver said. “I am a bit worried about some of the international teams, because, as you know, some of their stars play in our league, and their absence would make a huge difference for those national teams. Having said that, I’d only say these are such extraordinary circumstances that, even if we set out to plan for the Olympics, how can they even know what the world is going to be like next summer and whether they can go forward? So I think during these extraordinary times, all the conventional rules are off the table.”
The Tokyo Olympics will feature both traditional 5×5 basketball, plus the debut of 3×3 basketball as a medal sport. It’s unlikely current NBA players would take part in 3×3, there is a full international league of players for that sport (with many American players competing in it).