The 2012 Olympic Games are so close I can taste them. Without a doubt gymnastics, swimming, diving and, of course the centerpiece track and field are the marquee events in the month- long international world sporting festival.
However, since covering my first Olympic Games as a journalist in 1996, I have seen the continued growth of basketball as a marquee event.
The late, great Hall of Fame coach John McLendon, told me that basketball would one day rival soccer as an international sporting event. With the inclusion of the NBA All-Stars in 1992, McLendon’s projection is almost a reality.
Outside the United States soccer is the biggest spectator sport in the world. One of its charms is that no matter the poverty level or environment of people, it only takes a ball to play the game. Basketball is the same in that kids only need a ball and anything with a hole in it.
Nowadays at the Olympic Games there is no harder ticket and more closely watched event than basketball, outside of track and field, of course.
So, when USA Basketball recently announced its 2012 men’s national team, the hype quickly grew to a feverish pitch. Mainly because a cavalcade of big men ended up hurt after the NBA season. Players like Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, Chris Bosh and LaMarcus Aldridge all are recovering from injuries.
Thus USA Basketball added 7’1” Tyson Chandler, 6’10” Blake Griffin and 6’10” Kevin Love to take up the slack in the middle. However, before Team USA could play its first exhibition game Griffin incurred a tear in his left knee that will require arthroscopic surgery. Unfortunately it is the same knee that made him miss his rookie season (2009-10) because of a stress fracture and broken kneecap. Rookie Anthony Davis was announced as his replacement.
Griffin’s injury affirmed the opinions of Mark Cuban and some other critics that the “Dream Team” concept is an unnecessary risk for NBA owners.
I say how stupid is that idea? Very! Changing the basketball selection process to under 23-year-olds is simply ludicrous.
This is against all the Olympics profess to be. There are athletes over 40 years of age who compete in equestrian, shooting and a number of other events. So why is the focus on basketball? There are track and field athletes that are in their mid-forties competing.
The Olympics have graduated to where they should be. The best athletes in the world should compete no matter the sport. In Eastern Europe it has always been that way. The top athletes have been sponsored by the government.
As managing director of the national team, Jerry Colangelo told me that the NBA has derived a number of benefits from USA Basketball.
“The best American players are respected around the world for their willingness to accept complementary roles on behalf of their country while playing for free,” Colangelo said.
“Those same players improve by competing for spots on the national team and training in each other’s company, as young players have learned firsthand from Kobe Bryant and other established stars to upgrade their daily work habits in pursuit of excellence.”
Bryant said NBA owners should want their stars to participate in USA Basketball practices and games, because the players would be at greater risk if they were left to play unsupervised pick-up games on their own throughout the summer.
Will this versatile team make up in skill what it lacks in size? Added to big men Chandler and Love are super athletes LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook, Andre Iguodala and James Harden. This collective produces the most athletic group ever.