Olympic Basketball 2012: Blake Griffin's Injury Shouldn't Deter NBA Involvement

Bryan Toporek@@btoporekFeatured ColumnistJuly 13, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 20:  Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers reacts after the Clippers lose to the San Antonio Spurs 102-99 in Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on May 20, 2011 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. 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 Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Injuries can happen anywhere.

Especially to athletes.

Despite that seemingly plain fact, the future involvement of NBA players in the post-London Olympics appears to have taken a serious blow this week.

News broke Thursday that L.A. Clippers star Blake Griffin would be missing these Olympic Games after tearing the meniscus in his left knee at Team USA training camp Wednesday.

By Friday morning, both Sports Illustrated and ESPN ran articles noting that Griffin's injury will only add fuel to the fire for advocates of withdrawing NBA players from future Olympic involvement.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban blasted the NBA's participation in the Olympics back in April, calling it "the biggest mistake the NBA makes."

"If you look up stupid in the dictionary you see a picture of the USA Dream Team playing for free for corporate America so the U.S. Olympic Committee can make billions of dollars," he said, according to ESPN.

During this year's NBA playoffs, commissioner David Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver hinted that change could very well be coming after these London Olympics.

"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," Silver said. "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."

If the NBA, FIBA and USA Basketball can collaborate on transforming the FIBA World Championship into an event that matches the grandeur of soccer's World Cup, that's fantastic for the game of basketball.

Go right ahead, by all means.

But unless Euroleague and other countries' professional players unanimously agree to a 23-and-under competition at the Olympics as well, how can anyone justify limiting the participation of willing NBA participants over the age of 23, despite the risk of injury?

Yes, they're all signed to massive contracts to their own NBA teams, and those teams should rightfully come first. Neither Chris Bosh nor Dwyane Wade caught much flack (if any) for withdrawing from the Olympic team to rehab injuries and rest up for the upcoming season.

Griffin, who initially hurt his left knee during the playoffs, reportedly had the option to get the knee scoped before attending Team USA camp but declined to do so, according to USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo.

In retrospect, that might not have been the wisest decision in the world, especially when signing a five-year, $95 million extension with the Clippers this summer.

Chris Paul, Griffin's Clippers teammate, also aggravated a sprained right thumb during the first day of Team USA practice.

Like Griffin, Paul initially suffered the injury in the playoffs.

Colangelo claims that no USA Basketball players from previous years have been injured while participating, according to ESPN's J.A. Adande, so these two injuries could just be a complete fluke.

Aren't most injuries?

Was anyone expecting Derrick Rose to tear his ACL while routinely jumping during the first round of the NBA playoffs?

Was anyone expecting Tony Parker to almost lose his eye due to flying glass shards in a Chris Brown-Drake nightclub fight in June?

Injuries can happen anywhere, at any time.

Especially to athletes who tend to put their bodies under serious strain a grand majority of the time.

"I can easily get hurt playing pickup basketball in a gym somewhere," Kobe Bryant said Thursday night after Team USA's rout of the Dominican Republic. "Here I'm playing with the best players in the world, have the best treatment in the world. So I feel safer here."

"You can get hurt doing anything," reigning finals MVP LeBron James said after the game. "You can get hurt working out in the summer time as well."

Just think back to last summer, during the NBA lockout. What was Kevin Durant doing most of the summer?

Oh, right. Laying waste to a playground court near you.

If the Team USA participants weren't at the Olympics this summer, they'd just be working out on their own and playing their own pickup games.

Elite players like these didn't get to where they're at by taking summers off.

So, NBA owners? Commissioner Stern?

Do us all a favor, and listen to your stars for a change.

They all have chosen to participate in the Olympics this summer. Colangelo didn't have to coerce anyone onto the team, presumably.

We do have the freedom of choice in this country, don't we?

Let these superstars continue to represent the United States for as long as they want to keep doing it.

"Somebody has to put some value on what USA Basketball has done for the NBA," Colangelo said, according to Adande. "I think the players are better people for participating, they end up being better players for the experience, they've brought more value to their franchises and it's been great for the NBA."

One glance at Team USA's bench Thursday night said it all. Where else will you get a three-time scoring champion willing to come off the bench?

"Whatever the team needs," Durant said after the game.

"No matter who is in the game, we're going to cheer each other on," James said. "We want each other to play at the highest level no matter who's in there. It was a complete team effort."

By playing for Team USA, these players get to learn from the best. They can soak up the training habits of Kobe, LeBron and Durant like a sponge, then go back to their own teams and try to emulate everything they just witnessed.

The rewards outweigh the risks.

Let Team USA continue to shine with the best and the brightest, even after London.


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