One of the underlying topics of discussion surrounding this Olympic Men's Basketball tournament has been the debate surrounding age restrictions. A bunch of NBA executives have come out with comments that the tournament should be restricted to under-23 athletes, essentially protecting the prize employees of said NBA teams from injury and fatigue.
Pat Riley was interviewed this past week about -- amongst other things -- the Miami Heat winning the NBA title and Riley's thoughts on his star chess piece, LeBron James competing at the Olympics. Riley sounds supportive:
I look at it as a plus because he wants to play. He really is proud to play for his country and this is big-time stuff to him. This isn’t just the Olympics and he’s over there pushing his brand and stuff like that. He wants to win.
That penultimate comment is interesting. I mean, everyone knows that a big part of these athletes touring the world is a focus on promoting their "personal brands" (not to mention the corporate brands which they represent), but it's rare that someone in the business actually describes it that way. Normally the commentary sticks to the party line about altruistic goals and patriotism in representing one's country.
It does make you wonder how much of the decision-making process of a guy like James in entering the Olympic program revolves around that "pushing his brand" stuff.
Recently we saw young Cleveland Cavaliers star Kyrie Irving seriously consider making himself available for selection on Australia's national team -- a country to which he has little true bond. Irving was born in Melbourne, Australia whilst his father played as an import for the Bulleen Boomers, however the Irving family relocated to the United States when Kyrie was two years old. His decision to play for Australia surely would have been heavily movtivated by an increased ability to market himself on a world stage, rather than some type of patriotism towards a country in which he spent less than 10% of his life living.
Putting the issue to one side, there is a high level of commitment for players like James, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka in backing up from an NBA Finals appearance to spend a portion of their off-season competing in the Olympics, before preparing for the 2012/13 NBA season. Riley thinks that LeBron can handle the intensity of that preparation:
I’m sure he’s going to take some time off after, but the kind of conditioning that is required for an athlete like him, not only to go through an NBA season, win a world championship and then go right on into the Olympics is the kind of conditioning that’s above and beyond. … I think he’s going to be able to endure this.
Recent history tends to show that players indeed do better after an Olympic or World Championship off-season. Time will tell whether that is the case for this class of Olympic athletes.
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