Last week on “The Press Row,” our prize-winning Internet show (OK, we haven’t actually won a prize yet, but hope springs eternal), the Boss and I discussed the following question. Are you comfortable with Kevin Durant playing for USA Basketball in the summers?
I said no, not particularly, because I’d like to see The Franchise rest up after a 100-plus-game campaign. I said to Durant what the Beverly Hillbillies used to say to America on Wednesday nights in the 1960s: Sit a spell. Take your shoes off.
It’s fun to watch Durant and the Americans drill the French or the Brazilians or some other try-hard basketball nation. But I prefer my patriotism and love of country in forms that don’t include a scoreboard. And I prefer my superstars fully loaded for the games for which they’re paid quite handsomely. I want Durant rested for the games that truly ignite our passions.
Then came Friday night and Paul George’s gruesome broken leg. I felt for George. I felt for the Indiana Pacers. I felt for Larry Bird and for David West and for the proprietors of St. Elmo’s Steakhouse and for Dan Quayle and for Bobby Plump and for Stephanie Kuzydym and for everyone else I can think of from the great state of Indiana.
And then I thought what you thought. That could have been Durant. And no matter what anyone says, “you” includes Clay Bennett and Sam Presti and Scotty Brooks and Russell Westbrook.
I know, basketball players play basketball. Winter, spring, summer and fall. Whether they’re in NBA arenas with TNT cameras or whether they’re on outdoor courts under summer street lights. Kevin Durant is not taking the off-season off. He’ll play hoops.
But those pickup games at Rucker Park or Pauley Pavilion or a thousand other summer venues are not the same as the international competition that USA Basketball coordinates. NBA players in most pickup games are playing to stay in shape and to stay sharp. If James Harden gets a breakaway, there’s no sweat. Let Harden have his dunk.
Then these guys congregate for U.S. team camp and eventually head to Istanbul or Madrid or Rio for competition, and they come with their game faces ready. Pride kicks in. Suddenly, letting Harden dunk in scrimmage or letting some guy from Belarus get to the basket is not such a small deal.
And every time basketball is full force, the chance of injury increases.
Which makes this system madness. As Mavs owner Mark Cuban pointed out long before Paul George’s leg snapped, the NBA is assuming all the financial risk and reaping none of the financial rewards for international basketball.
Personally, I don’t see the big deal for international basketball competition. Is there some question about the U.S. being the king of hoops? This isn’t soccer. Isn’t gymnastics. Isn’t track and field. Everybody knows who has the majority of the world’s best basketball players. Maybe in 50 years there will be legitimate debate. But not now.
Cuban says he’s not opposed to international competition. Just let the NBA get in on the action. In fact, let the NBA establish some kind of world championships. Why let the International Olympic Committee or FIBA, which I assume is a total wreck of an organization like every other sport’s world governing body, cash all the checks and pay out none?
I appreciate Cuban’s business sense. But even if Paul George’s injury had come in an NBA summer enterprise, no one in Indiana would feel one bit better, and every other NBA port would be lighting candles by the thousands, praying for the well-being of its resident superstar.
It sounds unpatriotic to ask Americans to refrain from playing for the flag. But we’re not asking these guys to protect our freedom. We’re asking them to beat Angola and Croatia so we can hear “Oh, say can you see…” blare over a loudspeaker 10 time zones away. We’re asking them to give us a momentary rush of dubious pride.
It’s not worth it, even if you’re not the one paying Kevin Durant $20 million a year and it most certainly isn’t worth it if you are.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.