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SBD Global/July 31, 2012/Olympics

NBA Stars Balk At Changing Olympics Eligibility Rules To Foster Hoops 'World Cup'

Kobe Bryant is against using only players 23-and-under in Olympic basketball competition.
As talks continue that the NBA would like to see changes in its participation in the Olympics, Kobe Bryant and several other current U.S. Olympic team members spoke out on the issue following the team's win against France Sunday. One idea floated is having only players 23-and-under participating, and Bryant said, "If we send 23-year-old guys here to play against these grown men, we'll be in trouble. And when you look at the Olympics as a whole, it's about putting your best athletes to the front, to showcase. I don't see why it's even a topic of discussion" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 7/30). The AFP’s Jim Slater noted players are “united in wanting the chance to represent their homelands.” Kevin Durant said of the potential change, "I wouldn't like that. I would like to go to Barcelona and Brazil. I am 23 so I wouldn't get that chance so hopefully it doesn't change. I would like to play again." LeBron James said, "The process we have right now is working and I think it's great. I love being part of the Olympics and representing my country." But Slater noted with NBA Commissioner David Stern “pushing for change, USA Basketball has had to listen.” Bryant: "I'm concerned because I want to see all the young guys be part of this in the next Games. Players should be the ones to decide whether they want to take part of the Games or not” (AFP, 7/28).

GLOBAL GOALS CHANGING: In N.Y., Jere Longman wrote the NBA is “reassessing its involvement in the Olympics with an eye toward an even bigger and more popular international sporting event: soccer’s World Cup.” The concerns of the league relate to “player health, broadening the appeal of the sport, finances and perceived arrogance of the IOC.” At this point, any change seems “more likely to occur for the 2020 Summer Games" than for the ‘16 Rio de Janeiro Games. Longman: “If the NBA does maintain its current Olympic involvement, it may be for this reason: The players say they love it. They attract a global audience. They rub shoulders with top athletes from other sports. They have fun in a festival atmosphere while playing for a Gold Medal” (N.Y. TIMES, 7/29). YAHOO SPORTS’ Adrian Wojnarowski wrote this “isn’t about sending young Americans to the Olympics to play older teams, but the NBA cutting a deal with FIBA to make the Olympics a completely under-23 tournament.” For NBA teams, the ability “to control their talent in a rebranded World Cup of Basketball goes far past benefiting financially in ways that the IOC will never allow.” The owners are “organized, unified, and determined to make the World Cup of Basketball the financial boon that they always believed a European expansion of NBA franchises could be for them" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 7/29).

PLAYERS COULD EXERT SOME POWER: YAHOO SPORTS’ Wojnarowski wrote the NBA stars can “complicate the dynamics of a deal with a unified declaration: Push for an under-23 basketball tournament in the Olympics, and we won't be representing the U.S. in a new World Cup tournament.” Tyson Chandler said, “The players definitely have power, because we're the ones out there playing. If the players chose not to play because they've taken something away from us, then obviously we control it.” Wojnarowski noted there is 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 in motion” -- NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter “is too weakened and distracted to engage the issue.” Hunter for months 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.” Hunter has “never been less popular with superstars, and he knows it.” Meanwhile, the push towards a World Cup style tournament is “understandable, but shortsighted.” A 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” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 7/28).

WORLD CUP A FLAWED IDEA: In Kansas City, Sam Mellinger wrote the plan is “flawed in so many ways it’s hard to know where to start.” The NBA’s World Cup “would not match soccer’s for a lot of reasons, most obviously that national pride in basketball is a few hundred years behind” (K.C. STAR, 7/30). FOXSPORTS.com’s Jason Whitlock wrote Stern has “run out of ideas on how to grow the game at home, so he’s floating outlandish concepts aimed primarily at growing the game abroad.” A World Cup is a bad idea because the Olympics “is a 100-plus-year brand, a brand stronger globally than the NFL." The Olympics put “non-basketball eyeballs on Stern’s product,” while a World Cup “would be for the International Bill Simmons Society.” Whitlock: “It would be foolish for the NBA to weaken its relationship with the Olympics” (FOXSPORTS.com, 7/29). SportsCorp President Marc Ganis said, “The Summer Olympics is the greatest free advertising the NBA can have, and because of the way NBC will be highlighting men's basketball, it will be the dominant storyline of the entire Games, even more than it was four years ago in China. (NYDAILYNEWS.com, 7/29).

STILL UP FOR DISCUSSION: In Newark, N.J., Dave D’Alessandro wrote the U.S. men’s basketball team is still USA Basketball Chair Jerry Colangelo’s “baby, and now they’re changing his parenting guidelines on the fly.” Colangelo said, “I haven’t said much about it, because it’s a discussion that has yet to take place in the right forum.” He added he would meet with Stern when he arrives in London, “and it’s going to be an ongoing discussion.” Colangelo: “But the reality is this: There’s going to be a (basketball) World Cup in ’14. There’s change in the air regarding possibly an age limitation for the Olympics, like soccer has. The question is, what’s that age? Is it 23 or is it 25? My point is, that’s all negotiable” (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 7/28).
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