Despite playing not a single game this week in advance of the 2014 FIBA World Cup, Team USA nevertheless endured the ups and downs of a full slate – particularly in regard to the red, white and blue’s future in FIBA and Olympics events.
Fitting it is that an official announcement from USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo today revealed that the squad had cancelled a planned goodwill mini-tour in Senegal due to the Ebola outbreak rampaging through central Africa. While Ebola is one affliction the Americans haven’t faced since training camp began, the injury bug bit hard again in the DeMarcus Cousins mishap; worse than even Paul George’s unfortunate accident, however, is the dark shadow of that substance capable of making nearly anything worse: Money.
Following the George incident, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was heartily quoted across the blogosphere with words certain to loom large over the proceedings of the NBA Competition Committee meeting and October’s owners’ powwow, regardless of Team USA’s final finish in the World Cup.
Said Cubes: “The [International Olympic Committee] is playing the NBA. The IOC is an organization that has been rife with corruption, to the point where a member was accused of trying to fix an Olympic event in Salt Lake. The IOC (pulls in) billions of dollars. They make a killing … The pros in multiple sports are smart enough to not play when they are eligible free agents. But teams take on huge financial risk so that the IOC committee members can line their pockets. The greatest trick ever played was the IOC convincing the world that the Olympics were about patriotism and national pride instead of money.”
The easy retort would be that, if Cuban had his way, the NBA will in turn convince the world that playing for one’s national team in the Olympics should be secondary in consideration in hopes that perhaps a citizen or two from the given country will someday crack an NBA roster and bank some good ol’ American dollars. What can the Mavericks bombast promise to those playing for – at best – Euroleague or Liga Sudamerica money from his comfortable position atop a franchise in no fear of weathering economic crisis?
It also seems strange that Cuban of the USA, a country known worldwide for the national pride so ardently displayed by its populace, is arguing directly against the concept. For those from nations who place such great emphasis on success in sport in general and/or basketball specifically – think Lithuania, Croatia, Serbia, Argentina, Angola – the promise of foregoing wearing the country’s name on a jersey certainly outweighs the potential to make a few perhaps belatedly-paid euros in a domestic league. Just this month while playing in the FIBA U18 European Championship tournament, Unicaja Malaga’s Domantas Sabonis enthusiastically told David Hein and myself on our “Taking the Charge” podcast of how much he looked forward to “representing Lithuania” and “playing with my friends” every summer.
Cuban’s “smart enough” free agents this time around may have referred to Lebron James (who in actuality probably had The Decision 2.0 figured for himself long before he’d have needed to join Team USA), but some maybe-probably key pieces such as Kevin Love, Blake Griffin and Kahwi Leonard had no such concerns. Love’s absence felt particularly egregious as a super-skilled big man so crucial to Team USA’s success in 2010 and ‘12.
Regardless, the team could still boast Kevin Durant on the roster.
Until this week.
Whether unfortunate timing or not, Durant excused himself from national team duty citing “exhaustion” within 24 hours of signing an unprecedented nine-figure (!) endorsement deal – to the recently revealed surprise of Coach Mike Krzyzewski. Pundits aplenty were ready to back up the hardworking Durant, but such a sequence of events is dismaying indeed. Speaking completely pragmatically, doesn’t anyone remember that, beginning with Christian Laettner in 1992, players used to see Team USA as a springboard to a greater profile within an NBA context?
And does Cuban really hope to appeal to his compatriots (accent on the “patriots”) that national pride means nothing to American players after a history of superstars from Larry Bird to Kobe Bryant proclaiming the undeniable satisfaction of winning the gold for the USA? Is Kevin Durant, by all accounts a guy with his heart in the right place, the wave of the future? What happens should the still heavily-favored side falls in the knockout round and must qualify for the next FIBA/IOC tournament? Worse yet, what will be the fallout a tourney or two down the road if the nightmare of 2002 is reproduced?
The rest of the world has caught up to the US, goes the cliché in American media; yet the same media is willing to oblige superstars choosing green over red, white and blue – quite the interesting conundrum in a prideful land.
Indeed, money may not be able to buy you love … but it can get one out of playing time for Team USA in socially acceptable fashion, it seems.