Olympic basketball is one injury away from a big change
Berry Tramel: NBA stars like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook won't be playing for the USA if David Stern and Mark Cuban have their way. The risk is too great for star players to play in the Olympics.
The American basketball team got some lucky bounces and some friendly whistles to survive Tunisia 110-63 Tuesday night in the London Olympics.
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And Scotty Brooks, Sam Presti, Clay Bennett and everyone in a Big Blue T-shirt breathed a little easier. Pat Riley, the Buss family, the Gotham City Knickerbockers, too.
No one got hurt. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and their Yankee 'mates escaped unscathed, which means NBA superstars are a step closer to getting home healthy.
Also good news for Olympic basketball, for this reason. The next time a hoops hero ruptures an Achilles tendon or tears an ACL in the shadow of the Olympic flame, you can say bye-bye to the likes of Durant, LeBron and Kobe in international competition.
David Stern already wants to limit NBA participation in future Olympics. He's suggested a 23-year-old age limit, much like Olympic soccer uses. That would have kept the baby Boomers — Durant, Westbrook and Harden — on this U.S. team but hardly anyone else.
And Dallas Maverick owner Mark Cuban, who rarely gets smoke in his eyes, long has questioned the financial sanity of letting franchise cornerstones go play in rugged competition outside NBA parameters.
Especially, Cuban notes, in such a commercialized setting as the Olympics, when neither players nor the NBA owners who have invested so much in them, are compensated.
Some say Stern wants to set up a World Cup-style world championship that would trump the Olympics and be a revenue stream for the NBA. Maybe so. I don't know. But a major injury would squash even that idea.
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.