FIFA has not allowed top players to play for years. Baseball, despite putting on a great front with a number of concessions, was never that upset about being pushed out the door following Beijing. Now according to a report in Yahoo Sports Wednesday, the NBA may join the team migration away from the Olympic programme Why? For a number of reasons it makes great sense.
The Dream Team certainly had its place in Olympic lore. It helped lift the sport of basketball to new heights globally, and also helped lift the presence of the Olympics to a new level. However with professional basketball, led by the NBA, expanding on such a global scale these days, the constraints and time placed on delivering the best of the best to the Olympic games every four years, with no revenue coming back to the NBA, may have come and gone. The NBA has seen what FIFA has done with The World Cup, while still delivering young players to compete in the Olympics. They have also surely noticed the brand power and revenue the World Baseball Classic is doing for baseball, especially MLB, without all the schedule changes and restrictions that Olympic inclusion would have entailed in 2012 and 2016. Is there a place for all these sports on an Olympic programme? For sure. Is there a way for the best athletes to compete for their country and create huge revenue streams and brand building for their individual sport outside of an Olympic window? Absolutely.
Baseball faced the biggest test for Olympic inclusion. Like the NHL (which is in its own conundrum for the Sochi Olympics, with players wanting to go and the league leaning the opposite way), MLB had to make some major concessions on scheduling, sponsorship and other issues to keep baseball in the Games. It agreed to some…most actually…but in the end the IOC voted in golf and rugby 7’s, and baseball left the Olympic fold. At the same time, MLB and the IBAF were building their own competition with the WBC, which will expand this fall and then play its third iteration next spring with many of the top MLB players representing their countries. MLB picked the sponsors, the schedule, the format, the venue and as a result has its own global sports-specific property to grow. The same goes for FIFA and soccer. Control of all of tis rights has made the World Cup into arguably the largest and most lucrative single-sport event in the world. Hoops can consider a chance to do the same now if it goes that way.
Why? In addition to total control and revenue, the schedule can be altered to best give the top players time to rest in the offseason and find ample time and places to stage a Basketball World Cup. Not every year, but surely in non-Olympic years. The Olympic opportunity would still be there for younger players from around the globe for sure, as it is with soccer, but the opportunity to have a stand-alone global basketball event could make amazing sense going forward. Could some see it as greed fueled? Maybe. However prior to the Barcelona Olympics, the NBA was not a part of the programme. It can easily be said that without the NBA, the Olympics would not be as big as it is. There is also the feeling that the Olympics still remain the best showcase for those sports that do not draw the limelight year-round, especially now with the stage for professional sports being global and 24/7.
Sport is cyclical and maybe the NBA/Olympic tie has outlived its usefulness. It is a partnership that has created great theater and benefited both sides in its run, and has left both sides healthier than before. The games go on.