The Necessity for NBA Players Involvement in International Competition

P2221838Growing up, I’ve always enjoyed playing the game of basketball. As a kid, I looked up to NBA greats like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Reggie Miller, Shawn Kemp, Charles Barkley, Chris Mullens, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O’Neal (yes I was a 90s kid). Basketball was already known throughout the world but ever since the “Dream Team” took the Barcelona Olympics by storm in 1992, the world fell in love with basketball. This was an impressive feat especially in a world where the sport of football (soccer) reigns supreme. Basketball, a sport once revered only here in the U.S, now became a global phenomenon. And this was all because of the U.S.A basketball team’s decision to include NBA players in international competition.

In preparation for this year’s up and coming International Federation of Basketball (FIBA) World Cup of Basketball, U.S.A Basketball’s Managing Director Jerry Colangelo and Duke University head coach Mike Krzyzewski are in the process of selecting 12 out of 20 possible NBA candidates to represent team U.S.A. And like the International Olympic Committee (IOC), FIBA allows players the honor to represent their country in international competition.

However, during team U.S.A’s scrimmage in Las Vegas Nevada, Paul George of the Indian Pacers was severely injured early in the fourth quarter. He suffered a right leg tibia-fibula fracture (the two bones supporting the lower leg) when he landed and had his leg caught in the stanchion (rim support) while attempting a chase down defensive block on James Harden’s layup attempt. And week later, team leader Kevin Durant decides to call it quits. What was supposed to have been a friendly exhibition, turned out to huge blow, not only for team U.S.A’s chances in Spain, but for the Indiana Pacer Organization.

This incident raised many concern about the safety of the NBA players and their participation in international events. Should franchise players (a team’s star player) like Paul George be involved in international competition that does not financially benefit the franchise and the NBA and potentially jeopardizing the team’s chances at an NBA Championship? Should the NBA impose restrictions on NBA players to prevent or hinder them from playing internationally like an imposed age limit to play for a national team as discussed by former NBA Commissioner Davis Stern and current Commissioner Adam Silver?

As a fan and strong believer of these events, my stance in the matter is that NBA players should continue to participate in international competition.

To begin, basketball is a sport after all and injuries do happen. As Tom Ziller of SB Nation stated in his article “NBA owners using Paul George to restrict players’ rights is wrong,” “Players get injured doing lots of different things, including in practices, preseason games and regular season games,” in this case, an exhibition game. Ziller goes on to say that the injury on George is not a “sign” that playing for Team U.S.A is dangerous, but rather, it reminds us that, “injury can strike at any time.” Even current NBA Commission Adam Silver reiterates that, “Injuries can happen any place at any time.”

Second, in its 20 plus year history of using NBA players, this was only the first occurrence of a major injury from U.S.A Basketball. You can even estimate how minuscule it is by doing the math yourself. If it were 1 injury in 20 years, there would only be a 0.0137% chance of getting injured! According to the National Geographic, there is a greater chance of getting struck by lighting in one’s lifetime in the United States. That is 1 in 3000, or 0.033%! Therefore, although this incident is probable, it’s really not the norm. It’s an anomaly. And as stated by NBA and TNT reporter, David Aldridge, some GM even argue that a pickup game is more dangerous than playing for U.S.A Basketball because in a pickup game, when a player gets injured, there are no professional medical staff readily available to assist.

Furthermore, players participate in outside competition all the time. During the off seasons, many NBA players like Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and most recently Ron Artest, participate in pickup games in parks across the country and all over the world, not because they want to get injured but because they genuinely love the game of basketball and want to better themselves for the upcoming season, which is exactly what they are suppose to do! Why is participating for team U.S.A any different? Tom Ziller of SB Nation stated that, “The motives for players to participate in FIBA competition are largely altruistic. The motives for owners and GMs to block that participation are not.” In other words, the players genuinely do not participate for the money, especially for a non-profit organization like FIBA, while the owners and the GMs want it for their own profit.

Third, even with an impose age restriction to prevent players from participating international events, that doesn’t mean that the younger players won’t have the same risks. In fact, younger players play more recklessly than older more experienced players. Paul George, at 24 years old, is still considered young player. If an age restriction of 23 years old were utilized, that would mean that there is an even greater possibility for a player to get injured. Chicago Bulls All-Star and 2011 MVP, Derrick Rose was barely 23 when he tore is ACL back in 2012 and his MCL a year later due to his aggressive style of play and reckless abandonment. And Rose was injured in an NBA game! Even elite players of today like LeBron James (29), Kevin Durant (25), and Kobe Bryant (35) disagrees on the issue of age limit. Bryant even once stated, “It’s a stupid idea…and that it should be a (players) choice.”

And in a competitive sense, U.S.A Basketball was using college players in the past. However, they could not even keep up with the world. This prompted the organization to use NBA players instead because they have more experience playing at a high level. It is also true that the 1992 “Dream Team” consisted of players in their late 20s and mid 30s. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird even came out of retirement. So do we want the best in the world to represent us, or just a bunch of amateurs who are underdeveloped and not yet at the top of their game?

But there will be critics like the ever-opinionative Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, who, for along time, has strongly opposed the use of NBA players on the international stage. He argues that, “NBA pays the players’ salaries and receives no financial benefit.” And in a previous statement about the Olympics, he goes on to say, “They are risking their futures so that the Olympics organization can maximize sponsorship and TV deals,” Cuban wrote. “There is no good reason for the N.B.A. to risk our athletes so they can profit.” In addition, Steve Rosenbloom of the Chicago Tribune calls it a “stupid basketball endeavor” by referencing Derrick Rose and his past injuries. So in other words, players are an investment for the organization that they play for, so should the organization risk losing millions of dollars by letting their “asset” participate in such events? Should there be a policy to regulate this?

On the contrary, today’s NBA flourishes because of international involvement. The NBA, in fact, does profited and has generated billions of dollars in revenue from global marketing and merchandise sales. In 2012, former NBA Commissioner David Stern estimated the revenue to be up 20 percent to 5 billion dollars. China alone provided $150 million in revenue. And this year, current NBA Commission Adam Silver has stated that revenue grew “greater than 10 percent.” This is especially more significant considering the growing number of foreign players now playing in the NBA and, in turn, extending the NBA’s influence to their home country.

And despite Mark Cubans rant on not profiting and the NBA’s reluctance at first to include its players, without U.S.A Basketball’s participation in international competition we would not have known about the great international basketball stars of today and yesteryear that have benefited the NBA teams they played for, including given them an NBA championship. Many great NBA players arose from the presence of U.S.A Basketball including Manu Ginobili (Argentina), Yao Ming (China), Steven Nash (Canada), Peja Stojakovic (Serbia), Tony Parker (France), Tim Duncan (Virgin Islands), and Pau Gasol (Spain). Even Mark Cuban has an international player in Dirk Nowitzki of Germany. In fact, if it were not for Dirk Nowitzki and his impressive 94% play-offs free throw display (97% against the Miami Heat), Mark Cuban would not have won an NBA Championship in 2011!

This also raises another issue. Is it right for owners and GM’s to restrict players from playing the game they love? It is a commonplace knowledge that if a person enjoys something they love and as long as it’s legal, moral, and ethical, they should continue to do so. Furthermore, NBA contracts do not include off-season. Even the NBA’s agreement with FIBA “states that NBA teams cannot hold their players out of international competition unless they have a ‘reasonable medical concern’ going into international competition.” And despite the long and rigorous NBA schedule, the players are not forced to join U.S.A Basketball; it is their choice to play internationally and their choice alone, regardless if it’s patriotic or not. So what gives the owner and GMs the right to control the players? You can’t deny a player for doing something they love!

Last and most important of them all, I believe international participation allows fans all over the world the chance to meet their favorite players. When it comes to sports, the fans are the most important, especially in a global sport like basketball. Without the fan there would be no revenue for the NBA. And if the NBA chooses not to participate in international competition, they would be losing their chances at exposing their brand literally for free. And I’m quite sure that there is someone famous you would like to meet one day. How would you feel if you finally meet that person? Wouldn’t you be very excited?

To conclude, there is no need for the NBA to stop their involvement in international competition and there is no need to have age restrictions. As Tom Ziller of SB Nation stated “This whole ‘father knows best’ power-trip nonsense isn’t going to work.” In addition, the risk of playing for the national team is no different from playing a pickup game at the park. In fact, it is proven safer. The NBA flourishes because of international involvement. It has not only increase its international talent pool but also has created worldwide attention and generating billions of dollars in revenue from global marketing and merchandise sales. Not to mention, the inspiration of children all over the world, including this one little kid, who thought he could dunk, a very long time ago.

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One Comment to “The Necessity for NBA Players Involvement in International Competition”

  1. Although I don’t think it is right, the NBA does somewhat own the players. Every player is under a contract and not all contracts cover injures that are not NBA related so it would be in certain players best interest to not participate. But, it should be the players choice whether to participate in the FIBA or not. These guys are BASKETBALL player not just NBA players, they should be able to choose what they do with their talent. The game of basketball should be about the game itself, nowadays people get caught up in the sponsorships and money and forget that most of the players do it for the love of the game not the money―though it is a great perk. I say let them play.

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