Olympic Basketball: 5 Keys to Making an Under-23 Tournament Thrive

Bryan ToporekFeatured ColumnistAugust 3, 2012

Olympic Basketball: 5 Keys to Making an Under-23 Tournament Thrive

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    Why would the NBA restrict players from playing in future Olympics, given the success of Team USA over the past 20 years? 

    It's a pure money grab for the owners. Plain and simple. 

    Long story short, the NBA wants to restrict players older than 23 to only the newly rebranded FIBA World Cup of Basketball, so the owners aren't incurring the risk of their older stars' health in the Olympics for nothing in return. 

    Unfortunately for us, groups of billionaires tend to get their way. 

    There's a distinct possibility that this year's Team USA may be the last collection of NBA superstars to ever play in the Olympics together. 

    Assuming the NBA owners do end up getting their way, these five things would make the under-23 experience more enjoyable in future Olympics.

1. Define Exceptions to U-23 Rule Like FIFA World Cup

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    First and foremost, the NBA owners and commissioner must come to a consensus on the age restrictions they'll impose upon their players. 

    When Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban initially addressed the idea back in April, he advocated for only allowing players 22 and under on the team. 

    When NBA commissioner David Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver brought it up at the end of May, they alluded to the FIFA model of allowing three players above the age of 22 to compete in the Olympics. 

    There's no need to reinvent the wheel here.

    Olympic soccer rosters allow three players 23 or older out of 18 total, so the NBA should allow two of the team's 12 players to be over the age of 22 in future Olympics. 

    Really, a roster of young pups next to Kevin Durant and LeBron James wouldn't be the end of the world. 

    Especially when you compare it to a strict 22-and-under rule.

2. Whole World Must Embrace U-23 Model

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    This one should be obvious, but it doesn't sound like it's a lock by any means yet. 

    Kobe Bryant was quick to dismiss the chances of an under-23 squad if other countries brought players of all ages, saying to ESPN's Mike Wilbon, "You think guys under 23 versus the world would win? Come on, man." 

    Stern told the Associated Press last month that other countries "think [an under-23 model is] a ruse by us to help the U.S.," calling it the "biggest problem in the international community." 

    After all, not every country has a Ricky Rubio on its side to counter all of the young U.S. talent. 

    Much like FIFA restricts 23-and-older players from the Olympics (with certain exceptions), FIBA should be able to do the same with their players, cutting the International Olympic Committee out of the decision. 

    What's the advantage for FIBA?

    Like FIFA's World Cup, the new FIBA World Cup would immediately become the best global basketball competition around.

3. Profits Shared With Athletes

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    If the NBA's main motivation for the under-23 model is money—and make no mistake, it is—then it's only logical that the players should expect some of that profit, right? 

    That makes Mark Cuban's comments to ESPNDallas.com in May all the more interesting. 

    "(I'd be) more thrilled if the NBA starts its own world championship," Cuban said. "This way the revenues from the tourney could be shared with players. When the revenues go to FIBA, they get next to nothing. The teams get absolutely nothing." 

    Presumably, if the FIBA World Cup starts generating revenues like the FIFA World Cup, it should only mean more money for the NBA.

    Let's make it clear, though: If owners are keeping older players out of the Olympics for financial reasons, the players will expect to see some of that money.

    Otherwise, what incentive do they have to help the NBA make the FIBA World Cup a success? They don't have to play, as Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski recently wrote.

4. NBA Team Clearance for Injured Players

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    If they don't already, from this point forward, all NBA contracts could include a clause essentially giving NBA teams veto power over a player's involvement in any organized summer basketball tournament, due to injuries.

    If a player needed surgery after the NBA season but still wanted to play in the Olympics (like Luol Deng this summer), the NBA team would have the power to prohibit him from doing so.

    Players should be allowed to consult independent doctors under this model. If they're risking no further damage by participating in the Olympics, their NBA team wouldn't be allowed to stop them.

    The players likely wouldn't be thrilled about this part of the plan. But besides money, injury risk is overwhelmingly the owners' largest concern about international competition.

    If the owners had final say over the participation of injured players, wouldn't that make them less reluctant to allow a few 23-or-older players in the Olympics, too?

5. Don't Implement U-23 Until 2020

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    David Stern recently told USA Today that the shift to an under-23 model in the Olympics "is not an urgent issue," and that "nothing is definitive."

    If that's true, the NBA and FIBA should hold off on the change until after the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

    Making the switch before 2016 means that Team USA wouldn't get one more shot to build another "Dream Team." Nothing against this year's iteration (who doesn't love 83-point blowouts?), but injuries held this team back from becoming a true Dream Team rival.

    For the under-23 idea to be more digestible for players and fans alike, everyone needs to go into the Olympic process knowing that it'll be the last hoorah for Team USA superstars.

    That way, all 23-and-older players will know that if they're ever planning on playing in an Olympics, 2016 will likely be their last shot.