London 2012: David Stern, Olympic Basketball and the NBA's World Cup Dream

Avi Wolfman-ArentCorrespondent IIMay 31, 2012

PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 27:  NBA commissioner David Stern speaks at a press conference before the NBA game between the San Antonio Spurs the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center on March 27, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Spurs defeated the Suns 107-100. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

There's little doubt in my mind that NBA commissioner David Stern sees basketball as the next great global game—hoops in every hamlet, balls in every crib, licensed Kobe jerseys on every back.

In essence, he wants what soccer already has.

And in that pursuit, he now wants to do what soccer has already done: undermine the Olympics.

In other words, when Stern hems and haws about imposing an age limit on the Olympic basketball tournament—as he did last month and again this Wednesday—he isn't proffering common sense solutions or peddling in nuance.

He is trying to dismantle Olympic basketball.

But why?

Why sabotage a flourishing competition where player buy-in, competitive parity and talent level are all pointing up?

Because Stern and the rest of the NBA cognoscenti want to create their own robust international tournament—a tournament that isn't obscured by track, swimming and all of the other sports that share the Olympic limelight.

They want their own World Cup.

Deputy NBA commissioner Adam Silver hinted at the possibility during Wednesday's news conference (via Sheridan Hoops):

We think international soccer has an excellent model and in the case of soccer, of course, there’s the World Cup of football, which is the biggest sporting event in the world every four years, and then in the off-years, for the World Cup, they play, in essence, with some exceptions, a 23-and-under competition at the Olympics.

Basketball has taken what it wants from Olympia's bosom—siphoned all of the Dream Team momentum it can—and now, it wants to break free.

The NBA will leave some crumbling half-shell of an Olympic competition in its wake, just as soccer has.

But the real goal here, at least the way I read it, is to create something separate—a truly independent celebration of basketball's burgeoning global presence.

Time will tell if the sport is popular enough to carve out its own space in the already saturated landscape of international sports.

At the very least, though, we can now see the NBA's intent.


Post Script:

I wanted to clarify since there appears to be some confusion in the comments.

The NBA has not announced any plans to endorse a new international tournament.

NBA executives have, however, held up soccer as a model for international basketball.

Taking those allusions as insinuations, I've concluded that the NBA wants to create a major international tournament similar to what soccer offers with the FIFA World Cup (or re-format an existing tournament in that mold).

Doesn't mean it's going to happen. That's just my outsider hunch.