NEW YORK — Our best vs. your best, and let’s see who can win the gold medal in men’s basketball at the Olympics.
That was the idea that spawned the Dream Team, and now NBA commissioner David Stern sounds as though he wants to change it.
Stern on Wednesday endorsed a discussion of limiting the Olympics and the World Cup of Basketball (formerly called the World Championship) to players 23 and under, bowing to pressure from NBA owners who have complained that their prized assets are loaned out for free each summer to international federations.
“In some ways, because of a certain tradition that’s out there, the players that have it the most difficult and the pressure is the greatest on is the non-American players; that there’s an expectation. And if we change the rules so that they can only be expected to play in two Olympics, I think that would relieve them more than they will say publicly, and their teams,” Stern said at his news conference prior to the NBA draft lottery. “And that’s an idea, and as (deputy commissioner) Adam (Silver) said, that’s good to discuss with the (competition) committee. We’ll see where that goes.”
Until 1992, American professional players were barred from the Olympics under the arcane “amateur” rules that allowed professional players from Communist-bloc nations to field older teams, while the United States played with teams comprised of college players.
After the United States lost in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) opened the competition to professionals, and the greatest team ever assembled, the original Dream Team, made a such a splash at the Barcelona Olympics that it led to the global growth of the game.
The Americans won gold in 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2008, with the 2004 team losing three times and finishing with the bronze medal.
But will it be the last time we see America’s very best take on the very best from other countries?
From listening to Stern and Silver, it seems quite possible.
“We think international soccer has an excellent model and in the case of soccer, of course, there’s the World Cup of football, which is the biggest sporting event in the world every four years, and then in the off-years, for the World Cup, they play, in essence, with some exceptions, a 23-and-under competition at the Olympics,” Silver said. “And there’s a recognition, certainly Mark Cuban, other owners have raised repeatedly the issue of our players playing in essence year round when you add the Olympics to our newly-renamed World Championship of Basketball to our World Cup of Basketball.
“So when you have the Olympics, the World Cup of basketball, we are taking a very close look at whether it makes sense from an NBA standpoint and a global basketball standpoint for the top players to be playing at that level on a year round basis,” Silver said. “So what we have told FIBA, and what David has announced several times, is that we are all in through the London Olympics, and then post-London Olympics, we want to step back together with USA Basketball, led by Jerry Colangelo and Patrick Baumann in FIBA and … we need to take a long-term view of what makes sense both for the NBA and for the game.”