(Michael and Magic, losing their shit over Laettner’s terrible version of “Slack Motherfucker” during the postgame karaoke party)
Long accustomed to grinding his teeth while Dirk Nowitzki takes his lumps in international competition, Mavs owner Mark Cuban has long opined that sending NBA talent to their respective national sides is foolishly risky. No doubt fearing for the welfare of the Thunder’s Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook, the Oklahoman’s Barry Tramel echoes Cuban’s sentiments, adding, that outside of such international contests, “you rarely hear of offseason injuries in the NBA.” Tell that one to Monta Ellis or the late Bison Dele!
A major injury to LeBron or Durant or any player of that caliber would be catastrophic for a franchise. The Miami Heat lost money in its championship season. The Thunder will be treading water to stay financially sound as it pays its young stars. Organizations have committed unspeakable amounts of money to these players now wearing the red, white and navy blue.
To incur such a calamity in the name of goodwill and some kind of athletic patriotism is asking a bit much. The NBA is big business. Every decision concerning personnel is big; every decision concerns risk/reward.
Playing for your country is a noble thing, I suppose, though the whole concept is a little silly in basketball. There’s not any question which nation produces the best hoops. Olympic basketball is either a beauty pageant (Dream Team, maybe this 2012 squad), some kind of social experiment on whether superstars can get along or a referendum on putting together a roster, which the Americans miserably failed in 2004.
Amazing that we’re less than a month removed from mass coverage of the 1992 Dream Team’s 20th Anniversary, and guys like Tramel fail to recognize that squad’s most important legacy. No, not beating Angola by 70, but the way that star-studded (and Christian Laettner) roster inspired kids from all over the globe to pick up a basketball. The NBA’s talent pool from outside the U.S. has absolutely exploded over the past two decades ; Barcelona ’92 had just a little bit to do with that explosion. Perhaps the same thing can happen with a mooted hoops World Cup, but I don’t believe it is a stretch to say the NBA’s Olympic involvement is less about patriotism and more to do with (good) business.