Kobe Bryant Is Right to Call David Stern's Under-23 Idea "Stupid"
It's a stupid idea. It should be a (player's) choice. ... Basically, it's just a dumb idea and we (discuss) it that way. ... We just discuss it like that (and) kind of voice our opinions through you (media) guys.
I couldn't have said it better myself, Mr. Bryant, but let me try.
Stern's new plan would restrict NBA players over the age of 23 years old from participating in the Olympics.
The principal reason that Stern is pushing this modification is to increase the popularity and visibility of the World Cup of Basketball (formerly known as the FIBA World Championships)—as there would be no such age limit to play in that quad-annual tournament.
However, there is no guarantee that stripping Olympic basketball, from an American's perspective, of its importance and competitiveness suddenly makes the World Cup of basketball a compelling event.
Basketball is one of the most popular events at the Summer Olympics—especially for Americans—as we measure USA basketball's international success by the number of Olympic gold medals, rather than the amount of World Championship medals. Furthermore, American and international players alike show extreme pride in representing their countries at the Olympics.
Could you imagine Stern telling the Gasol brothers they aren't allowed to play for Spain in the Olympics, or Tony Parker that he's forbidden to play with his beloved French team? The backlash from international players as well as international fans would be immense. Many foreign players—including the aforementioned ones—have tighter and deeper ties to their national teams than their NBA squads.
This new format would closely mirror that of soccer. FIFA currently enforces their own under-23 rule at the Olympics—something the NBA thinks highly of (via sheridanhoops.com):
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, (deputy commissioner) (Adam) Silver said.
The only reason the World Cup ever had a chance to become as wildly popular as it is today is because Olympic soccer was limited to amateurs at the time of the tournament's founding in 1930.
Of course, USA basketball was once comprised solely of college stars. However, that all changed with a little something called "The Dream Team" in 1992. It will be near-impossible for FIBA and Stern to wash away the significance Americans associate with Olympic basketball.
While several other countries already place more importance in the FIBA World Championship, rather than the Olympics, America is not one of those nations. Americans adore the Olympics and discount the tournament formerly known as the World Championships. Stern's idea would attempt to shift the players' and the fans' focus to the World Cup of basketball, rather than the Olympics.
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You may be thinking: why would Stern want to promote the FIBA World Championships rather than the Olympics? Two words: cash money.
According to Tim McGarry of USA Today, NBA owners currently receive no revenue from the Olympic basketball tournament. And if these eligibility changes are made, NBA owners would receive a share of the World Cup of basketball's revenue.
Surprisingly, money isn't the only thing on the minds of NBA owners—they're also worried about the health of their investments...errr...players.
Many owners, most notably Mark Cuban, have been concerned about their star players wearing down after participating in the Olympics. However, playing in the Olympics has actually proven to do wonders for numerous players' games in the past. Chris Paul is just one example (via ESPN):
If you look at the track record for it, I can honestly say my best season in the NBA statistically was the 2008-09 season, which was after my first Olympics. You see guys, when they come back from playing on a team like this, they go into the new season with the ultimate confidence.
Furthermore, while Olympic basketball is extremely competitive and physical, it's actually safer than say, a pick-up game, which most NBA players participate in during the summer. In the Olympics, the players are getting round-the-clock treatment from top-level medical staffs and are practicing and playing in safe, yet competitive, environments.
If this rule were in place this year, only five players from the 2012 USA team would be eligible to play in the Olympics: Kevin Durant, Russel Westbrook, Kevin Love, James Harden and Anthony Davis (Blake Griffin, who's out due to a knee injury, would also be eligible).
In this case, the USA would be forced to send an, albeit talented, inexperienced and comparably below-average squad to the Olympics.
USA basketball has experienced far too many disappointments in order to put themselves at a competitive disadvantage merely for the sake of money.
Obviously, something should be done to increase the popularity and importance of the FIBA World Cup of basketball, but giving Olympic basketball the proverbial death sentence—at least from an American's vantage point—isn't the right way to do it.
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