The basketball World Cup does exist already. It is the FIBA World Championships that take place every four years (the next one is in 2014 in Spain). For the U.S., the Olympics are the be-all and end-all for international basketball. Thanks to the compilations of “Dream Teams,” the Olympics captured American fans’ imaginations.
That era is ending though.
David Stern has broached the idea of limiting the Olympics to an under 23 tournament similar to how FIFA handles the Olympics for soccer. But this is something entirely new. Something that might replace the FIBA World Championships and give the NBA much more control over the event so that the world’s best players will actually play.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reports the NBA is discussing a rebranding of the World Championships and is hoping to take a larger cut of the revenue in return for the event’s use of NBA players. Mark Cuban, a long-time dissenter of the “Dream Team” movement and the use of NBA players in international play, told Wojnarowski he could get behind a plan where owners share the revenue from an NBA-driven international tournament.
“The question is: Why would we partner with a current tournament rather than start our own?” Cuban said. “If done correctly, it can be NBA-owned and operated and have the potential to be just as large as the World Cup of soccer. That is a product, in my opinion, we want to own, not share.
“I don’t know what the NBA plan is, but the above is what I will be pushing for.”
It will be interesting to see what, if anything, comes from this plan. The NBA spearheaded the Dream Team movement in 1992 at FIBA’s request and it has inspired and generated a lot more basketball interest around the world. The sport grew immensely because of the work Stern has done and because of the ambassadorship from the 1992 and 1996 Olympic teams.
But as the price for players has increased — Michael Jordan made $3.25 million in the 1992 season according to Basketball-Reference, for instance, while LeBron James is making $16 million for this season — and the potential loss from injuries in these offseason, high-intensity tournaments increased, owners like Cuban have become a bit more outspoken against international competition. They have requested international teams provide insurance on their contracts or have pushed their players to sit out international competitions.
It is a very difficult situation to be in, torn between contract and country.
The hope with a re-branded World Championships is that the NBA will have a bigger say and a bit more control of the revenue, thus giving NBA owners some incentive to allow and encourage their players to play.
There is no word yet whether FIBA would be OK with this. As it is structured now, many international basketball federations consider the World Championships to be a bigger prize than the Olympics — the opposite of the view Americans have long given international basketball as shown by the fact the U.S. has won the World Championships just four times in its 60-year history. It does not seem likely FIBA would give this competition up.
It might be forced to if the NBA pulls the plug on the Olympics and limits that competition to its youngest players and takes away the high-profile players from its competitions, thus somewhat de-legitimizing the champion.
Now that international basketball competitions are actually competitive with the world’s best players, the time might be right to make a more featured basketball celebration event. The World Championships do not get nearly the press that the Olympics do in the United States. Perhaps putting more of the NBA’s weight behind it would do the trick.