USA basketball is approaching a dismal place. Many of the league’s top players are opting not to participate in the FIBA World Cup. It’s difficult to determine a cause for the lack of interest but Jerry Colangelo and Team USA need to find a way to draw more of the top tier players in.
NBA Superstars Are Skipping Out On FIBA World Cup
This is a Bigger Deal than Most Realize
While it’s not the end of the world, star players not participating in the World Cup tournament is alarming. It implies the players don’t have a sense of urgency about international competition. Team USA should easily qualify for the 2020 Olympics but the team they take to Tokyo will look very different. We are living in the “load management” era. The FIBA timeline interferes with the NBA. Many qualifying tournaments happen during the regular season. The World Cup also runs extremely close to the beginning of training camp. With premier players like LeBron James emphasizing rest, many players are choosing not to devote their summers to basketball.
This presents a couple of issues. The first being the gap is shrinking between Team USA and the rest of the world. USA basketball is still the favorite but how long will they remain the undisputed champion? Contrary to other countries, international competition takes a backseat to professional leagues. If you travel abroad, the Olympics takes precedence over all else. These guys play together, know each other and work through the years to bring a gold medal to their respective countries. While the USA boasts the most talent, the whole of a seasoned international team could prove more valuable than the sum of Team USA’s parts. This unlikely outcome became a harsh reality in 2004 when the USA had an embarrassing bronze medal finish. Afterward, Mike Kyrzyzewski and company had to regroup.
The second issue is the Americans have significantly less time to build continuity and familiarity. Their foreign counterparts spend much more time playing together. The NBA guys get at most the All-Star game to share benches outside of international play. The Rico Hines UCLA private runs are hardly a substitute for structured competition. Team USA basically fields three teams throughout this process. The AmeriCup team is mostly comprised of G – League players. They’ll roll out the B squad for FIBA World Cup. Then presumably, the stars will come out to play in 2020. This gives Gregg Popovich a few weeks with his “real” team. That’s a time crunch, to say the least.
The International Ripple Effect
Team USA needs to realize that this isn’t 1992. Opposing players aren’t just happy to share the court with them. They’re coming for blood. They believe they can truly compete. One reason for this is the high influx of international players in the NBA. Not only are they coming over, but they are also being highly successful. The reigning MVP of the league, Giannis Antetokounmpo, will be suiting up for Greece. To put it frankly, respect for Team USA is dwindling. The rest of the basketball world is beginning to see themselves as equals. When a 19-year-old Luka Doncic makes a statement like “It’s easier to score in the NBA than in Europe” halfway through his rookie season, that says something.
His reasoning for making the statement was interesting as well. He emphasized the larger court and the defensive three-second rule in the NBA. Those are advantages the league guys do not have in FIBA play and will have to adjust to. International players see this as an advantage since they play with FIBA rules their entire lives. While most of the stars that will likely be in Tokyo have Olympic experience, they will need to get reacclimated to international play. This could prove problematic for the USA. They’ll be looking across the court at teams headed by productive NBA guys and a significantly diminished fear factor.
This could also be taken as a sign of disrespect. American players have a stigma overseas of being selfish, arrogant, and lazy. The speculative reasons for the stars skipping out on a major qualifying tournament could be reflective of that in the eyes of their competitors. This could very well be taken as “we’ll just show up in Tokyo and beat them” type of attitude. International players are past the point of conceding defeat to Team USA and could use this as bulletin board material.
Why This Is the Case
The first reason is fairly practical. Americans just don’t care about the qualifying tournaments. People tune in for the worldwide phenomenon that is the Olympic games, but the FIBA World Cup just simply isn’t on most people’s radar. Next, there isn’t a galvanizing reason for the stars to compete. After 2004, there was redemption. In the subsequent years, there seemed to be a buddy system driving participation. Now, there are more things encouraging players to sit out. The horrific injury to Paul George, who was with the Indiana Pacers at the time, in 2014 could be a deterrent. Especially to a player that is seeking a huge contract. While a devastating injury like that isn’t likely, it’s still possible. And that could be enough to scare some guys off.
Teams also could be enticing their big money guys to skip the qualifying tournaments. Franchises are committing considerable resources to players and they would hate to lose one of their stars for the season in a 120-63 victory against Antigua in the FIBA World Cup tournament. All in all, it is simply not a top priority anymore. This is a cyclical thing because USA basketball is reverting back to a time when the international competition was put on the back burner. Team USA will be sending its weakest team to a major tournament since 2002. The world saw the ultimate result. Let’s hope this gets figured out before it gets back to that point.
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