In a story that has sort of slid under the radar among casual sports fans engulfed in all things Olympics, this is probably the last time that NBA superstars will be competing in the games. Going forward, the NBA and its owners are looking to partner up with FIBA to make the Olympics an under-23 tournament and create their own World Cup where they control the process and, of course, the profits.
Here are some arguments AGAINST the NBA/FIBA World Cup and why they’re wrong.
In saying that the players have the power to stop this move by refusing to play in the World Cup, Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Woj) writes that the NBA is not getting proper union representation:
The solution is simple here, but there’s a reason the players have been left drifting on the issue, uninformed and unaware of the NBA’s behind-the-scenes machinations to move a plan with FIBA into motion: Players Association executive director Billy Hunter is too weakened and distracted to engage the issue. For months, Hunter has been hell-bent on burning through the NBPA’s coffers to bankroll lawyers to try and protect himself in a joint probe into the union’s business practices by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Department of Labor. The players’ interests are barely on his radar because he’s in complete self-preservation mode.
It is impossible for NBA players to take a strong stand — never mind insist they won’t represent the United States in a tournament as a protest — without getting crushed in the public eye. That’s why Hunter is paid nearly $3 million a year — to make the case for them, and make it with complete resolve.
Billy Hunter runs a nepotistic, unethical, and possibly illegal ship and is probably distracted to the point of ineffectiveness for the reasons that Woj states but this really doesn’t have to be his fight. Woj is one of my favorite writers but painting the NBA players as powerless to stop this move without guidance from union leadership is off base. NBA superstars are well aware of their power and they wield it as they see fit. When LeBron James and Dwyane Wade coordinated a picture of themselves and their teammates wearing hoodies to show support for Trayvon Martin–whose murder is still logic-defyingly framed as a story with two sides because of cynical race-baiting at Fox News and other media outlets–they represented a clear departure from the days of Michael “Republicans Buy Shoes Too” Jordan.
For the last year or so, Dwight Howard has carried himself like a petulant child but he’s a been a petulant child who understands his leverage and is asserting it.
If this is a battle that LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Carmelo Anthony see fit to pick, they can and will do it themselves.
Why the owners want to push FIBA to turn the Olympics into an irrelevant under-23 tournament and ship the stars over to a different two-year cycle in the world championships is understandable, but shortsighted. The World Cup of Basketball won’t come close to matching soccer, because nationalistic allegiances are far, far more fervent to soccer teams. The Olympics frame NBA stars as global icons in a way nothing else can, but most NBA owners don’t think that benefits them in such a tangible way, and want a clear revenue stream flowing through a partnership with FIBA.
The World Cup of Basketball obviously won’t come close to matching soccer but neither does Olympic basketball. For this move to make sense for NBA owners, the profits combined with the international exposure in the new World Cup need to add up to greater than the value of the international exposure of the Olympics. Clearly, they believe that a World Cup better serves their interests.
It’s a bad idea. The Olympics is a 100-plus-year brand, a brand stronger globally than the NFL. The Olympics is an advantage the NBA has over the NFL. American football won’t ever be associated with the strongest brand in sports. Hell, the Olympics might be the strongest brand of any kind. You can say the word “Olympics” anywhere on the planet — from a tiny tribe in Africa to a remote village in the Middle East — and people know what you’re talking about.
The Olympics are a 100-plus-year brand but the first Dream Team was in 1992, just 20 years ago. The Olympics have elevated basketball to a point of international prominence during this time but at this point there are diminishing returns on the exposure–how many people from a tiny tribe in Africa are only now learning of basketball from the Olympics?
The NBA isn’t trying to appeal to tiny tribes in Africa or remote villages in the Middle East–it’s trying hardest to gain market share in Eastern Europe and Asia. Traveling to China twice over the past couple years, it was staggering how many basketball courts there are, how often they get used, and how many males under 30 years old walked around in NBA jerseys. The slam dunk contest and All-Star game were broadcast live. People in China and America–basketball’s two most important markets–will definitely tune in for the World Cup of Basketball with the same vigor as the Olympics.
Finally, as Mark Cuban told Woj, ”The Olympics are a huge for-profit endeavor…It makes no sense that NBA owners subsidize it.”
NBC paid $1.18 billion for the Olympics broadcast rights alone. Like the NCAA, the IOC is a monolithic cartel that will only act in the best interests of its “amateur” athletes when those interests are aligned with IOC stakeholders.
For one example of this, see Darren Heitner’s description of Rule 40:
#WeDemandChange. It is a Twitter hashtag that has become immensely popular among athletes competing in the 2012 London Olympics. The main demand is that the International Olympics Committee’s (IOC) Rule 40 of the Olympic Charter be amended so that Olympic athletes are permitted to promote brands of their choosing and receive compensation for same. After all, sponsors not approved by the IOC and/or an athlete’s national governing body (i.e. the United States Olympic Committee) are dissuaded from partnering with athletes who are unable to promote their products and/or services when those athletes are most marketable – immediately preceding, during, and immediate after the Olympic Games. The full text of Rule 40 is as follows:
“Except as permitted by the IOC Executive Board, no competitor, coach, trainer or official who participates in the Olympic Games may allow his person, name, picture or sports performances to be used for advertising purposes during the Olympic Games.”
From NBA owners’ perspectives, why should they take the risk on hundred million dollar guaranteed contracts so the corrupt, self-serving IOC and its cronies and its sponsors and its television partners reap the financial windfall?
And why should basketball fans care if an NBA-run World Cup reduced exposure for the game internationally? If it’s a similar tournament with the same players–which it will be–does it matter what it’s called? While we’re thankfully spared the injustice of tape delay for basketball, wouldn’t it be better for us that games won’t be on at 9:30 AM and that the broadcast rights will probably go to CBS or ESPN who have proven time and again to handle their responsibility much better than NBC?
Time will tell how whether the NBA soundly executes its World Cup both domestically and internationally. It would seem, though, that fans will not be huge losers from the inevitable shift.
Photo Credit: Ball Is Life