As we reach the Semi-finals of the Men's Olympic Basketball tournament, which game should you focus your gaze on? The simple and persistent answer is both of them.
All of them.
Anything that you get the opportunity to watch.
Why the insistence? The reality is, if the NBA and it's owners get their way, we quite literally have four games of legitimate, high standard international basketball left. Possibly ever.
All of that may sound dramatic, but if FIBA succombs to the mighty lobbying power of David Stern and his cronies, Argentina vs USA, Spain vs Russia and the two medal games will be the last opportunity we get to watch the best of the best battling it out in their national colours. If the NBA gets their way in moving to a restriction against over-23 players in international competition, we have to be resigned to the fact that a return to the current rule may never eventuate -- or at least not for a very long time.
In short, the NBA owners want to destroy the greatest international competition of basketball for the sake of their own corporate greed. That may sound harsh, but that is the nutshell summary of the forces behind their intentions to restrict their key "assets" from representing their nations. The potential loss of revenue to their franchise rates of higher importance than the amateur coming together of the world once every four years.
"Faster, Higher, Stronger." -- Olympic motto
"Richer, Richer, Richer." -- apparent intention of the NBA and it's owners.
If you are reading this article, there is every likelihood that you are a lover of the sport of basketball. You embrace it in all of it's forms. And what more pure form of the game is there than playing it for pure pride -- pride for one's country? It harks back to the pride displayed on the playgrounds. It is a million miles away from the nine-figure contract courts of the NBA.
Cutting the sport to exclusively 23-and-under would exclude Kobe Bryant. LeBron James too. Carmelo Anthony. Chris Paul. Forget about Dwight Howard and Dwyane Wade too. Team USA's Semi-final opponents Argentina would be without the likes of Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola and Carlos Delfino. Spain wouldn't have Pau or Marc Gasol, Juan Carlos Navarro or most of it's other stars. Nor would we witness Andrei Kirilenko in action for his country.
You get the picture. Suddenly, the Olympic basketball tournament becomes a pointless exercise. It is rendered unimportant and virtually unwatchable in the same way as Olympic Soccer is frowned upon as second rate. Don't forget, there was a reason why the 1992 Dream Team was formed -- the old format took the best of the best out of the game. If we want to watch a great batch of youngsters running around, we can watch the various Under 23 or Under 21 FIBA tournaments, or just check out the NCAA Tournament.
I can't remember the last time I wrote an article as "angry" as this one is. As a passionate observer of this game for decades, this attempt by the NBA owners to leave the international form of the game hamstrung is incredibly frustrating. No one wants to see NBA players injured. The reality is however, they can get injured anywhere, any time -- and do. If they weren't playing in an Olympic tournament, they could just as easily be getting injured on a practice court somewhere, or in a rough-handed scrimmage. If nothing else, the format of the Olympics provides them with a structured basis for keeping their bodies in shape and at the highest level of practice before the NBA season rolls around. Players often step out of international tournaments to have watershed NBA seasons.
Stepping away from that for a second though, just remember: this is something bigger than a job. This is representing one's country; something that people across the world quite literally die to do in other forms. It is serving a larger purpose than increasing the bottom line of an NBA franchise's profit & loss statement. It is inspiring the next generation of basketballers in London, in Barcelona, in Beijing, to become that NBA player down the track. It is the Olympic spirit.
Watch as much of the remaining Olympic tournament as you can. You might not get another chance like this.
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