Every Monday morning, Section 215’s Akiem Bailum gives an in-depth and unfiltered look at all of the latest sports news in The Monday Morning Realist. You can follow Akiem on Twitter @AkiemBailum.
On Friday night near what was supposed to be the conclusion of the USA Basketball Showcase at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas (virtually an All-Star Game with the defense), Paul George’s leg bent in a way that legs are not supposed to bend.
When defending a James Harden layup, he landed awkwardly near a backboard and his leg proceeded to split in a way that was nothing short of gruesome.
It was sad also in the sense that it took away from what was an impressive performance by a Derrick Rose who looked (at last) to be at 100-percent as well as a full-court three point buzzer beater from Damian Lillard that was sure to make any Houston Rockets fan watching the game have a case of déjà vu.
George had to be taken off of the court on a stretcher and the remainder of the game was cancelled. His USA Basketball teammates and friends, most notably Harden himself, were notably upset and concerned for the health of their injured superstar.
He has since had successful surgery, but everyone could immediately tell that such an injury would keep him off of an NBA court for the entire 2014-15 season. That’s eventually what the prognosis turned out to be.
One doctor even said that the injury would take a grand total of up to 18 months to completely heal from, as it has even been suggested that said injury was so awful that bone was visible from outside George’s skin on his leg. Some even wondered if it was career-threatening or even career-ending.
Immediately, most fans who witnessed the horrible sight of the injury thought back to what happened the previous year in college basketball to Kevin Ware. While with Louisville, He suffered a similar injury in an Elite Eight game against Duke in the 2013 NCAA Tournament that took place in Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium, thanks primarily to an elevated court.
The Cardinals went on to win the national championship that year and Ware was able to participate in the final cutting down of the nets at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, whose metro area he is from. Ware has since recovered and will be playing basketball this season for mid-major Georgia State in the Sun Belt Conference.
A sensible debate on this topic would be if those backboards that are close to the baseline near the rim do indeed need to be moved back.
Instead, the media went for the insane as it normally does. The conversation has since turned to a debate over if NBA players should be participating in international competitions like the upcoming FIBA World Cup (that always takes place the same year as the FIFA World Cup) and the Olympics.
In a sane world, such decisions will be left to the players and the players only. Lillard has already said that he will still continue on with USA Hoops. Having NBA players in the Olympics and FIBA World Cup raises the profile of the world’s premier basketball organization in the NBA. That is one of the primary things that people give former commissioner David Stern credit for during his tenure as the league’s commissioner—globalizing the sport.
Of course, the league’s owners want no part of seeing their players that they are paying in these international competitions because they feel that once they sign their paychecks, no one and nothing else should matter.
The thing about this is that there are some that will take the side of the owners, blindly. They do this because of the idea that the Olympics should be left to the amateurs and that professional athletes should be nowhere near the five-ringed circus.
What these folks forget is that USA Basketball not only manages a men’s team, but also a women’s team. So, going back to a U-21 team would presumably mess up a women’s team as well as the men’s team and the women’s team didn’t even take the court yet in a scrimmage. This hurts the WNBA.
Second, if it’s going to be legislated that NBA players can no longer compete in the FIBA World Cup or the Olympics, then it negatively affects USA Basketball the most, but it also has a negative impact on any international players in the league. International stars that may want to play in the Olympics will start thinking twice before jumping to the NBA. In a fair world, if USA Basketball is forced to go U-21, then so must everyone else.
After all, Canada is thinking about making a run at a gold medal at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo and wants Andrew Wiggins to be the nucleus of Team Canada that year.
Also, no owner will tell you this, but injuries are actually more likely during the long haul and grind of an NBA season than during international competition. The training for these FIBA World Cups and Olympics takes place for, at most, two months.
The next Olympics will be in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. The NBA season that year (side note—possibly the last season before another potential lockout) will end in mid-June. Rio 2016’s Opening Ceremonies will be in August—two months after a winner of the Larry O’Brien trophy is crowned.
Any NBA players for respective countries in the Olympics have to turn around immediately after the end of the season (especially if they’re one of the 16 teams participating in the playoffs) and start training for Rio 2016.
Let’s be clear that international players that may be “serviceable” in the NBA are some of the best hoopsters for their international teams. A perfect example of this is Jose Calderon for the Spanish National team.
Larry Bird, the team president of the Indiana Pacers, already tried to douse water on the flame that is the insane debate over stars in FIBA and the Olympics by saying that George’s injury could have happened at any time, at any place to any player. Bird is the word and Bird is correct.
Apparently, the name “Kevin Ware” is not one uttered often in NBA boardrooms. Or they simply have short memories.
He’s also someone who can relate since he played on international teams in his career, most notably, the 1992 Dream Team that won gold in Barcelona.
While Commissioner Adam Silver has said that the league will not restrict players from playing overseas (to once again bring some sanity to the conversation), no owner has been more front and center, though, with this idea that the FIBA World Cup and Olympics are bad for NBA players than Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.
Cuban has always been against the idea of his players competing internationally, even though his franchise player in Dirk Nowitzki is from Germany—and is the biggest reason for Cuban’s one and only NBA title as Mavs boss. He is part of a German national team that, outside of him, is average at best against other hoops superpowers like Argentina, Spain, and the USA.
This week, he has put his campaign to get USA Basketball to go back to a U-21 team into overdrive. The rationale that he uses is that NBA players (like those that play for his Mavs) risk injury by competing in international tournaments and they’re not paid for them. He claims that if the IOC were forced to go to a pay-for-play system that they’d go back to amateurs/U-21s in a heartbeat.
Except most of the other Olympic disciplines, notably gymnastics and wrestling, still use a huge amount of U-21s. There’s more to the Games than just basketball, but don’t tell this guy that.
Then, Cuban exposed himself as a boastful hypocrite by saying that the NBA needs to establish its own “World Cup of Basketball”, similar to what Major League Baseball has done with the logistical nightmare that is the World Baseball Classic.
Add this one on to reports that Silver has been playing footsie with the idea of a midsummer offseason tournament that would give teams a second shot at a championship during the season. Even though such a tournament only takes away from summers that the league ought to reserve for what they’re currently reserved for—WNBA basketball.
So, the overall message from Cuban (who is no doubt speaking for other NBA owners in this case) is that they do not like to see their players in international tournaments. This is, of course, unless such a tournament is run by the league itself, and by proxy, the league’s 30 owners. Meaning that they stand to make a profit off of it.
A global tournament that nets nothing for an NBA owner is something they’re ready to set fire to in the boardrooms of the Association. One that is sponsored and bankrolled by the league and could have their bottom lines sitting prettier is something these empty suits will sign up for 10 times out of 10.
So, Realists, whenever you hear Cuban or any other NBA owner drone on about the safety of NBA players in these international competitions like the FIBAs and the World Cup, then try to rationalize it by saying that there’s no pay-for-play structure like the Association, take their message with a grain of salt. Because there are just as many owners (all of them) that are fetishing over the idea of their own league-sponsored tournament (a.k.a.—one that they can make money off of).
If they were concerned about their players avoiding injuries, how come not one owner has said anything about shortening the season or trimming down on the number of teams that are able to clinch postseason berths every year? While those would improve player safety, it wouldn’t improve the status of their already fat pockets.
If this becomes a topic of conflict throughout the labor negotiations sure to go into high gear after 2016, the NBPA (who just elected the first female executive director ever in North American sport for a union) need to make this non-negotiable and say that players should be able to continue in international competitions at their own discretion and not that of any owner who holds no stake in such competition.
Cuban and other owners say that the FIBAs and the Olympics threaten the health of the players. What they really do not like is the fact that the side effects of international tournaments do not include the continued obesity of their wallets.