The globalization of basketball has made the sport a world-wide affair, giving players plenty of exposure but little rest. And that is where the debate begins as to whether it’s wise for NBA players to compete for their national teams.
Those who saw the U.S. recapture the gold medal in the Beiing Olympics would surely give a thumbs up to representing one’s country. And it must be noted that despite the success of the U.S., there are many other countries where world tournaments are considered as popular as anything else, including NBA games.
The pressure for many non-U.S. players to compete for their countries in various tournaments is immense, a true source of national pride.
When Kevin Garnett decided not to compete for the U.S. team, it barely caused a whimper. However, if Pau Gasol decided not to play for Spain or Manu Ginobili had decided to sit out the most recent Olympics for Argentina, it would caused commotion among sports fans in those respective countries.
If it were only once every four years in the Olympics that players competed, that would likely be more acceptable, but even the U.S. has asked its players for a multi-year commitment. Many other coutnries ask for an even greater level of commitment.
This issue came up again when San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker recently suffered a mild sprain of his right ankle while playing for the French National Team. When asked to comment, the Spurs told Hoopshype.com that they have sent out a release on the matter that was their position.
The Spurs stated that Parker would begin his rehabilitation process in San Antonio before rejoining the French National Team. It also stated that a timeline for Parker’s return would be determmined based on how he responds to his rehabilitation program.
“We want to thank Tony for returning to San Antonio to allow our medical staff to examine him,” said Spurs General Manager RC Buford. “It shows his maturity and his dedication to the Spurs organization.”
The Spurs didn’t want to comment on having players competing for their various National Teams in the offseason. One has to think it’s a touchy issue since the Spurs are the same team that had Manu Ginobili miss the beginning of the last season after he needed surgery following the 2008 Olympics to repair a ligament injury in his left ankle.
Ginobili had originally suffered a posterior impingement of his left ankle in the first round of the 2008 playoffs against Phoenix. The injury hampered him the duration of the playoffs. After rest and rehabilitation he was cleared to play for the Olympics, where he re-aggravated the injury. Ginobili had surgery in September of 2008 and missed the beginning of the 2008-2009 season.
It was an injury-plagued year for Ginobili, who only appeared in 44 games and whose season ended prematurely in April with a stress fracture in his right ankle, causing him to miss the playoffs.
Anybody would agree that there are positives and negatives about NBA players competing in the offseason.
One can surely cite the injury factor as a reason not to have the players compete. Yet there are plenty of players who go through the year-round grind and come through fine.
Take Kobe Bryant for instance. In less than one year’s time, Bryant competed for the Olympic team, then played in all 82 regular season games for the Los Angeles Lakers, and another 23 in the postseason. The extra workload didn’t seem to bother Bryant, the Finals MVP.
In addition, there is Bryant’s teammate Pau Gasol, who participated in the same whirlwind schedule. Gasol was on Spain’s silver medal Olympic team, and then played in 81 regular season games and 23 more in the playoffs for the Lakers.
Yet Gasol is an interesting case study because in 2006 he suffered a broken foot in Spain’s semifinal win over Argentina during the FIBA World Championships. Gasol then missed the first 23 games of the 2006-2007 NBA season for the Memphis Grizzlies. That season the Grizzlies went 22-60 after three consecutive years of competing in the postseason. Memphis has been in a free-fall ever since.
And even if a player escapes injury and competes in more than 100 NBA games such as Bryant and Gasol, this past year, one wonders what toll that takes on the body down the road.
One person who is clearly against seeing NBA players participate in national tournaments is Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.
When contacted by Hoopshype.com for his views, Cuban sent his blog of 2006. His views haven’t changed since then.
“I’ve said it before and I will say it again, the NBA is making a huge mistake by letting our players participate in the Olympics and its qualifying competitions,” Cuban wrote. “Anyone who thinks the Olympics are anything more or less than a business ought to try to bid on the TV rights or talk to any of the many businesses who have been sued for trademark infringements.”
Cuban totally isn’t against having players compete in the offseason, he just feels that there is a better economic way as far as the NBA is concerned.
“If the game of basketball truly has grown to the level of interest we all think and hope it has, then we should just dump playing for the Olympics and hold our own tournament,” he wrote. “If we were really , really smart, we would work with the NHL,NFL , MLB, the USA Track and Field organizations, Tennis and other sports with strong professional bases and create our own games. Then supporting the international development of the games would make sense. Then we could have bidding to host the SuperGames. To provide TV coverage. To sponsors. A Winter SuperGames, A Summer SuperGames every 4 years.”
Again, even Cuban would be in favor of some sort of competition that would put the toll on the bodies of NBA players. And there is no bigger proponent of the NBA game than Cuban.
The NBA players would argue that they have to keep working out in the offseason anyway, so why not be in a competitive setting that the Olympics or these other tournaments provide.
There is something to be said for that, but one has to wonder how much pounding an NBA player’s body can take in a league where the seasons are long and the offseasons for many have become increasingly shorter.