David Stern suggested recently that the USA only send players 23 and younger to the Olympics. Kobe Bryant called the idea "stupid" and Kobe Bryant is right. It is stupid. The whole thing will backfire and here is why.
The logic behind Stern's argument is that NBA stars, playing for free for their countries, risk getting hurt, and by getting hurt could diminish the product on the court, and thereby diminish the NBA.
First, let's bear in mind one thing. There is no stage like the Olympic games for the USA to advertise it's very best product. Why would it advertise anything but the best product it has?
Players like Dirk Nowitzki are a part of the NBA today because of the original "Dream Team." There was something special and magical about seeing the greatest players in the world assembled to play together.
We like to look at the ramifications of the Olympics and the NBA merely on a national scale, but in terms of both scope of players and reach of audience, the NBA has more and more become an international game.
In 1992 there were 26 players in the NBA who were born outside of the U.S. A few of those, such as Steve Kerr and Rolando Blackman, were Americans who were born overseas. Others actually attended American schools overseas, or else went to high school in the U.S.
In fact there were only 14 NBA players who were born overseas and attended high school overseas.
The 1992 Olympic Games changed everything.
When the world saw what basketball could be like played at the very highest level, it wowed the world. NBA fans were born everywhere, and future soccer stars committed to playing basketball instead.
Last year there were 89 players born overseas and the vast majority of them were cultivated there as well. There are some exceptions, such as Carlos Boozer and Al Horford, but the vast majority of those 89 are players who are genuinely foreign players.
In 1992 there were four foreign born players who eventually made it into the Hall of Fame, Hakeem Olajuowon, Patrick Ewing, Drazen Patrovic and Dominique Wilkins. Only two of those, Olajuwon and Patrovic, were genuinely foreign players.
In 2012 we have Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Steve Nash, all of whom could be Hall of Famers at some time. Other players, such as Luol Deng and Marc Gasol are All-Stars.
There is no denying that this trails back to the interest generated by the U.S. sending over its very best in 1992. Interest in the national teams, both domestic and international, has peaked and ebbed since then by who we send over.
When we send in our "B Team," which doesn't even win, Americans lose interest. So does the rest of the world.
The U.S. team wasn't generating interest in the country, in the world or even in the NBA in the years that shortly preceded the "Redeem Team" in 2008.
There's something spectacular about seeing the spectacular. We love to see the best in the world do what they are best at.
It's not really about whether or not the U.S. wins gold. We all know that the U.S. can win gold anytime it chooses by sending over its very best.
If the U.S. sends over its second-best, there are no guarantees of anything. That's part of the fallout of the '92 Dream Team, though. The rest of the world is catching up. We already know that a 23 and under team would be challenged severely to win.
The rest of the world isn't going to impose the same restriction. We can be certain of that. The Olympics might be more competitive as there would be real questions about who would win.
But really, who cares? Because this isn't really about winning the gold medal, as apocryphal as that sounds. When a sprinter wins the 100-meter dash, we call him the fastest man in the world. The gold medal should go to the best in the world.
When the NBA sends it's "B Team," the best in the world aren't playing.
When the NBA sends over it's best, there's no question who will win. So no, this is not about the gold.
It's about featuring the best players in the world. It's about marketing the game.
When you see a car commercial they always show you the highest trim model but advertise the lowest trim price. Why do they show you the highest trim model? Because they want to show you their best product.
This isn't about winning the gold. It's about featuring the best athletes in the world doing the thing they are the very best at. Who cares if LeBron James is over 23? He's the best in the world.
Who cares if Kobe Bryant is well into his 30s. He is one of the two greatest players playing today.
Besides that there are plenty of young players, such as Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love on the team. They'll have the chance to be mentored by the older players and then they can pass the torch on in four more years.
When they play, they'll be the best in the world and people will show up in droves, whether in person or on television, all over the world to watch them play.
From a financial standpoint, the Olympics are the biggest marketing opportunity the NBA has, and it's free. Why would you advertise your second-best product?
Financially speaking, the NBA is getting a net win here. In the debits column, you have Blake Griffin missing a part of training camp—maybe. In the credits column, you have somewhere in the hundreds of millions or a billion people watching your product.
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