Hubbard: Team USA players opposed to 23-and-under rule for Olympics

LAS VEGAS – Depending on who is asked, the idea is somewhere between harebrained and bizarre, which, come to think about it, isn’t saying a lot for the proposal.

The rule in question is the proposed age limit of 23 for players participating in the Olympics, which has been floated out there as a trial balloon by NBA commissioner David Stern but which has a real chance of being implemented prior to the Rio Games of 2016.

The current members of Team USA, from the top on down, don’t like it.

But Stern is the boss, and the boss has decided that the governing forces of soccer are far more on the ball than their basketball counterparts because they have an age limit of 23 in the Olympics and then open competition in the World Cup, which is a global phenomenon every four years.

So why not follow the lead of soccer and create a World Cup of Basketball?

Nitpickers would point out that making the Olympics worse in order to make the world championship better is a curious strategy. But, then again, the NBA could run a World Cup and benefit financially. and when sports is driven by greed rather than what is best for the sport or its fans, anything is possible.

Count Jerry Colangelo, managing director of the U.S. national team, as one opposed to the change.

Colangelo said he has had a discussion with Stern and told him to step carefully.

“Before any final decision is made, it’s important that all the people understand what the ramifications are – to the current group of players, to the future group of players – what really are the limitations as a result?” Colangelo said. “I think that discussion should be a long, thorough discussion before anyone goes off half cocked. That’s my opinion and I shared that with David.”

If Stern’s plan was currently in effect, the U.S. team would not have Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, Deron Williams, Chris Paul or Andre Iguodala on the roster.

“There should not be an age limit for the Olympics,” said Chandler, who pointed out that swimmer Dara Torres competed in the 2008 Olympics at age 41. “We wouldn’t have been able to watch her. And we wouldn’t have been able to watch some of the heroic things we have happened over the years. So I’m very against it.”

Five current Team USA players are 23 or younger – Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Blake Griffin and James Harden. The rule would not impact them now, but it would in four years. Each of the players has the goal to compete in multiple Olympics.

“You only have very few chances to represent your country,” Love said, “so I feel that it comes along every four years and I feel like if you have the chance to do it and you want to make that step and you’re good enough to make the team and represent your country, I think you might as well be able to do it, even when you are older.”

(RELATED CONTENT: David Stern wants to ruin the Olympics)

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Although Stern is trying to pump up an event that would replace the World Championship, there is nothing to suggest it would be successful with fans, especially those in the U.S.

The last World Championship held in America was in Indianapolis in 2002, and attendance was awful. If you can find someone who paid extra close attention to the U.S. winning the gold medal in Turkey in 2010, you have made a rare discovery.

And are the TV networks going to pay large bucks to televise an event that few have watched? The NBA undoubtedly would unleash the full force of its marketing and publicity operation, but is creating tradition an instant process? Is it something that impassions fans because they see a series of slick television commercials? Can an autocratic commissioner simply command that fans be interested?

What of the rest of the world? Yes, players from other countries have the privilege of playing in the most popular basketball league in the world, but what if 30-year-old Tony Parker still wants to compete in the Olympics for his country?

And will other countries support such a proposal? FIBA, the governing organization for international basketball – including competition in the Olympics – would have to change rules to adopt a 23-year-old age limit.

“I think it’s a long way from concept to finish line because it’s such a political process to begin with,” Colangelo said. “When you have the NBA, you have FIBA, you have the other world governing bodies and those from the countries – you’ve got to get everyone on the same page.”

Olympic coach Mike Krzyzewski is busy preparing his team for the Olympics and said he hasn’t given the proposal much thought. But from a competitive standpoint, he thought it would be good for the U.S.

”If everybody else was [limited to 23] I think we’d have an advantage,” Krzyzewski said. “Usually the U.S. kind of dominates or wins a lot at the younger age and then it become tougher as you go forward.”

Actually, there are mixed results. In the most recent competitions, the U.S. finished fifth in a tournament involving players 19 and under, but won competitions at 18 and under and 17 and under.

Krzyzewski, however, is missing the point, although it is understandable that he has tunnel vision on preparing the current team.

In international basketball play, the Olympics not only have tradition and history, but also have created an inspiring sense of patriotism among basketball players. It is impressive to listen to players in their 20s, or Kobe Bryant at age 33 talking about the joy of playing for country, wearing U.S. colors and how it genuinely moves them.

That’s not to say for one second that players do not understand business, and that they almost always make decisions that involve accepting the maximum amount of money they can get.

But if you have established a great tradition – and the NBA has in the Olympics – is it something you sell to the highest bidder?

Or is it more accurate to say that you would sell out to the highest bidder?


Tuesday, July 10 – July 10: Kyrie Irving excelling in Team USA camp
Monday, July 9 – Original Dream Team is ancient history for Team USA
Sunday, July 8 – Days of self-destruction are over for U.S.
Saturday, July 7 – Versatile American squad on a mission
Friday, July 6 – The Olympic rich get richer, and the good get better

Jan Hubbard has written about basketball since 1976 and worked in the NBA league office for eight years in between media stints. Follow him on Twitter at @whyhub.


  1. Global Knowledge says

    Dear Young Basketball,

    For years I’ve heard of your “global growth” and “international icons” and it has been fun watching you grow towards a decent level of significance. Now are you ready to take the next step and challenge the big daddy for global dominance?
    I mean you’ll truly be a big deal when
    1.) You have a true World Cup that is a MEGA event around the world the comes close to what I have (we’ll get back to this later)
    2.) You actually start to generate global TV ratings that come close to what you project and try to hype
    — for example let the NBA release its ratings on an individual basis in every country on earth. 20 years ago it was enough to say “we’re on tv everywhere”…. now you need to show us how many actually watch. It isn’t like the NBA hasn’t been paying for the data for 20 years now. So release it!
    — how much are your NBA television rights paid for around the world? there is a reason you don’t release that information either (since the numbers are so small)
    –you predicted a billion for the USA-China game at the 2008 Olympics. Actual ratings? lol
    3.) when you have a lot of leagues around the world (not just the NBA) that are a big deal in terms of sponsors, media rights, attendances) that garner global attention.
    4.) when you are so big and powerful that you can tell the Olympics to screw off because you’ll have your own World Cup which will be bigger and more popular than anything the Olympics has…
    I mean at the end of the day, you get lost amidst 50 other sports at the Olympics and the global ratings actually stay pretty low on a game by game basis. For example- let’s compare global ratings for the Euro Cup this summer to the Olympic basketball tournament. Can we say domination?


    your older brother Soccer (:

  2. Rad E Cool says

    From the perspective of a non-U.S. basketball fan, it seems as if the only people who don’t see the World Championships (or World Cup) as a bigger deal than the Olympics is the U.S. Instead of trying to strong-arm a rule for participation onto the players and other nations, why not take the WC more seriously and the Olympics less so by switching the quality of teams? I mean, I can see how the Dream Team was the start of it all and couldn’t be replicated at the ’94 Worlds, and there was more emphasis on the ’96 Olympics as being on “home court”, but a renewed emphasis on the ’98 Worlds over the 2000 Olympics would’ve changed this perspective. If Colangelo picked a “B” team for the Olympics and pointed out that the real competition is the WC, then the media and public narrative would follow. All the more so when one considers the amount of teams and tournament format of the WC is much better than the restricted 16 team field for the Olympics.

  3. says

    You should do some research before writing on subjects you don’t know much about – the next FIBA world championship is already going to be named the ‘World Cup’ and the NBA won’t be controlling it…

    It is a financial decision mainly. Nobody likes the Olympics profiting from their players when FIBA could put that money directly back into basketball. It is a bit of shame, but with the Olympic tournament now limited to 12 teams it is a bit of a stretch to consider it the premier event these days.

  4. Darin says

    I think our country (U.S.A) is the only country in the world that doesn’t consider the FIBA World Championship (now World Cup) the cream of the crop. I think we need to catch up with the rest of the world in that respect.


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