David Stern, NBA Would Be Wise to Wait on Under-23 Olympics Until 2020

Bryan ToporekFeatured ColumnistAugust 14, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 08:  United States Men's Basketball Managing Director Jerry Colangelo and NBA Commissioner David Stern watch the United States take on Australia during the Men's Basketball quaterfinal game on Day 12 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at North Greenwich Arena on August 8, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The NBA's dream of converting the Olympics into an under-23 basketball tournament likely won't come to fruition by the 2016 Olympics, Sports Illustrated's Ian Thomsen reported last Thursday.

This should only be taken as a positive for everyone involved, including the NBA.

Long story short, NBA commissioner David Stern and the league's owners have their eyes set on the U-23 Olympic model so they can drive more profit from the newly-rebranded FIBA World Cup of Basketball.

The International Olympic Committee doesn't share profits from Team USA basketball with the NBA, which infuriates Stern and owners, such as Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks.

Cuban's logic goes something like this: Why should NBA owners incur the risk of injury to their top players without somehow being compensated for it? (A valid point.)

Instead, partnered with FIBA in the new World Cup of Basketball, the NBA would finally draw a profit from its players' international involvement.

With Olympic participation largely restricted to players 22 and younger, the World Cup of Basketball would immediately become the best basketball competition in the world.

Taking FIFA's lead in restructuring the Olympics into an under-23 model isn't something that the NBA can shove down the rest of the world's throats.

According to Thomsen, 213 national basketball federations around the world will need to approve the change, and the IOC will also be involved.

Given how slowly most legislative processes take, the NBA would need to perform miracle work to have the U-23 structure implemented by the next summer Olympics.

FIBA chief Patrick Baumann came out this past Saturday to say that his "feeling is that we will not be proposing a 23 age limit for the 2016 Olympic Games" this past Saturday, according to ESPN's Marc Stein.

By doing so, he quelled fans' fears that the U.S. v. Spain gold medal game would be the last time NBA players would be allowed in the Olympics without restriction.

"All of us—the NBA, the IOC, FIBA—we have all earned a lot, not just financially, from being in the Olympics, and particularly since 1992 with where we were and where we are now," said Baumann, according to Stein. "I'm not sure we're done with ... the exposure basketball has got here (at the Olympics)."

Baumann makes a fair point. Without the worldwide attention generated by the original Dream Team, who's to say that the NBA's top superstars would be as popular today internationally?

The entire world tunes into the Olympics for two weeks once every four summers, and the USA basketball team often takes top billing alongside global superstars such as Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt.

Frankly, there's no chance the World Cup of Basketball can expect to match that type of popularity, especially in 2014.

Ira Winderman explained it well on NBC's ProBasketballTalk: Even if the level and intensity of the competition matched the Olympics, "it wouldn't have been woven into an international carnival of sports."

The FIBA World Cup will be a stand-alone basketball event, which simply won't generate the furor the Olympics did for the past two weeks.

Maybe one day, after the Olympics switches to a U-23 model, a basketball World Cup will come close to matching the popularity of FIFA's World Cup.

However, more countries' teams would likely need a realistic shot of winning the FIBA World Cup for that to happen. Besides the United States, Spain and Russia, what other countries stand a chance in the basketball version over the next decade?

Granted, a U-23 tournament won't be a much different story.

Baumann expressed the fear of a U-23 model widening the talent gap between the United States and the rest of the world, with young superstars like Anthony Davis and Kyrie Irving still in the U.S.' pipeline.

Sure, Spain has Ricky Rubio, and Russia's Alexei Shved made plenty of Minnesota Timberwolves fans happy this summer, but most of the contenders in these London Olympics were led by veterans in their 30's, not their early-20's.

Eventually, we have to accept the inevitable.

An NBA source told Stein that some FIBA members will resist the change to a U-23 model in the Olympics, but that "this will eventually happen."

As long as the NBA owners cool their jets for the next four years and wait to make the push after the 2016 Olympics, the U-23 tournament might not be such a bad thing.

That's only assuming the rest of the world gets on board, too.