NBA Going 23 and Under for Olympics?
With the Dream Team documentary generating record ratings for the NBA TV network and the USA basketball team having firmly established itself once again as the best in the world in 2008, it’s become apparent that it may be time to revisit the current Olympics situation.
Numerous owners around the NBA have questioned the logic of sending professionals, players they’ve invested millions of dollars into, overseas to compete for their country in the Olympics. The risk of injury and the possible subsequent financial ramifications to an NBA team has led to discussions inside the NBA about different avenues to diffuse these risks.
As a result, there’s a new proposal from the NBA regarding eligibility of players to compete on their respective national teams. Under the proposed format, only players at the age of 23 or younger on an NBA roster would be able to play for their country of origin at the Olympics.
“The notion would be that it was following the global soccer model,” Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver said. “For the Olympics only, it would be 23 and under, and then for the World Cup of basketball, just like with the World Cup of soccer, that competition would be eligible to anyone.”
Commissioner David Stern, who played a key role in the United States changing eligibility rules from amateurs to professionals that led to the formation of the Dream Team in 1992, agreed that it may be time for change.
“I think it’s appropriate to step back and take stock of where we’re going,” Stern said. “So I think there might be a better balance than we currently have. All we knew was the model that we knew, and that’s what we’ve done, but I think it’s appropriate to take a look at it and see what the right way is.”
At the same time, there’s no denying the leaps and bounds the NBA has grown internationally since the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. The Dream Team that featured arguably three of the ten greatest players in NBA history in Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson (among many other greats) generated an international following the likes this league had never seen before.
“On a personal basis, I think we got a lot out of the Olympics,” Stern explained. “We helped grow our coverage of our game. We helped grow the game. The result has been extraordinary. We are in 215 countries, whereas we were probably in 80 in 1992, countries and territories. We have 80 international players, and back then we had a handful and the growth of the game and the appreciation for it has been so great.”
One of the most outspoken critics over the years of the current Olympic eligibility standards, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban had his own opinion about the proposed change.
“Love it,” a concise and to the point Cuban told HOOPSWORLD via email.
Because of the lengthy history between Stern and Cuban, which includes record fines lobbed at the Mavs’ owner, Stern made it a point to jokingly assure the media that Cuban’s stance wasn’t the only reason for the NBA’s compromise on the matter.
“This is not just a response to Mark Cuban, in fact, usually when Mark says something, I try to go the other way,” Stern joked. “But actually when he is right about something, he may actually be right, and here I think he actually has a point. I really do.”
For both owners and players league-wide, on the surface at least, there’s seemingly a lot to like about the new proposal.
In terms of the owners, the risk associated with both players in their prime and older veterans would dissipate as generally only players in their first three or four seasons would be eligible.
For players, the pressure from their home countries to consistently compete in international play would become a moot point due to rules out of the players’ control. Stern says that obligation that many players feel is a key reason to consider changing current eligibility standards.
“I do have some great deal of sympathy for those teams whose players grow up in a way that says, ‘I will play under any circumstance for my country, regardless of the injury to me and the threat to my career,’ and I understand that,” Stern said. “Maybe those players are put under enormous pressure to play for their homeland, and perhaps an age limitation would remove some of the pressure from them, while nevertheless giving them an opportunity when they’re young to play for their country in the Olympics.”
Even though many are already on board with the possible changes, a massive eligibility shake up is bound to have more than a few detractors.
There’s little doubt that taking elite-level, veteran NBA players out of the equation in the Olympics would decrease the competition level – particularly in terms of the quality of talent on team USA. One member of the 2008 gold medal winning Olympic team, Miami HEAT guard Dwyane Wade, says he isn’t so sure the proposed age change would be a good thing for everyone involved.
“Twenty-three is kind of young in the NBA,” Wade told The Associated Press. “If you think about 23, I’d have never played one probably, coming in at 21.”
One argument to that point would have to be the 23 and under trio of superstars for the Thunder in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden currently competing against Wade in the NBA Finals.
Both the NBA and the NBA Players Association are expected to reconvene following the end of the season, although any age limit changes would not be able to go into effect this year.