They changed the name in a bid to make the tournament more appealing, especially to the Americans, but it’s a case of the same old story. The World Cup just isn’t attracting the big names in the NBA.
LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook and Blake Griffin are amongst the many big names that have chosen rest ahead of competition as they have focused their attentions to the next NBA season.
And you can’t blame them. Their money comes from playing in the NBA, not international basketball. Their priority is the season ahead with their clubs; international basketball is saved for the off-season. Let’s not get it twisted, they all love playing for their country. Parker has appeared in seven straight Eurobaskets for France; James popped his international cherry at the 2006 world championships in Japan and has since competed in both the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games and Oklahoma City Thunder duo, Durant and Westbrook both played in the 2010 world championships as well as the 2012 Olympics.
To Americans though; the Olympics are considered the number one event in the international basketball calendar, and it will take a long time for that to change. The NBA’s marquee players make themselves available for the Olympic Games and, due to the gruelling 82-game NBA schedule and adding the post-season on top of that, they choose to represent their country in that four-year cycle, so they can avoid burnout and the risk of picking up injuries (the example being Paul George).
The world championships: The name doesn’t sound too appealing, does it? Hence the name change.
So how did the name change come around???
In late 2012, FIBA, with the help of then-NBA Commissioner David Stern wanted to take the prestige away from the Olympics (the idea with it being an under-23s event), and turn the international basketball world’s attention to the world championships – so they re-named it – to the FIBA World Cup of Basketball, which was a smart move in many people’s eyes, a more attractive title with more appeal. And the inaugural event being hosted in basketball-mad Spain, who are the closest challengers to the United States.
To make the move a success, FIBA needed to avoid it clashing with other major sporting events, so their version of the World Cup now will skip a year so it can avoid the FIFA World Cup. Another smart move. Football (soccer) in 2018, basketball in 2019.
FIBA have learned though that the World Cup is still playing runner-up to the Olympics, and the number of absentees on the American roster is proof that the NBA season is their priority – and rightfully so.
“I need to take a step back and take some time away, both mentally and physically in order to prepare for the upcoming NBA season,” said Kevin Durant, the latest and the biggest name to drop out of the squad with just over two weeks left until the World Cup begins. “I will be rooting for USAB and look forward to future opportunities with them.”
My guess is that Durant will be available for the 2016 Olympics in Rio, along with LeBron and co. In the meantime, there are business opportunities for Durant at the moment; a 10-year, $325million deal with Under Armour is in the pipeline as it looks fairly certain that he will leave Nike after campaigning to sign for them in his rookie year. Of course, LeBron is preparing for his return to Cleveland and Kevin Love has put the NBA season first as he looks to get a team sorted for next season. And it looks likely that he will end up in Cleveland.
It isn’t just the USA though that has players resting. After playing non-stop since late- 2010, France’s Tony Parker has decided to give his body a very well earned rest this summer. The last time he chose to skip national team duties: The 2010 world championship.
Maybe in time the World Cup will be basketball’s showpiece event, but until then; the Olympic Games matters most in the land ranked number one in the hoops world.