It was nice seeing the second version of “The Redeem Team” take the Olympic gold on Sunday over Spain, but what did it do for the future of the great game of basketball? By contrast, the men’s Olympic soccer tourney, won by Mexico over Brazil, gave the sport a big lift and highlight a host of the young stars fans will see in elite league’s around the world later this summer, and more importantly, in World Cup 2014. It was an exciting glimpse at the furte of the world’s most popular sport, while the second-most popular sport gave the Olympics, well…more of what fans have seen for the past year…NBA stars who we can see and enjoy for eight months every year, next to be seen in November. Is the soccer model, championed by FIFA, the way to go for basketball in the future?
The idea has been floated by NBA officials as high as David Stern in the past few months, and the Olympic tournament did nothing to show that a move to a separate World Championship, with elite young players partaking in the Olympics, could be the best to grow the game. Why? Some thoughts.
1- While bringing the original Dream Team to the Olympics was best for global growth, the sport has matured. In Barcelona ’92, the original “Dream Team” lifted both the sport of basketball and the Olympics to a new level of casual awareness. Since then, basketball has grown significantly on the global scale to the point where the Olympics, although important for men’s basketball, is not the be-all for those who follow the sport. It is mature beyond the experience and in many ways suffers because the focus is on those who rarely get the spotlight. Olympic basketball was prime time viewing, but even with its mega-stars, it is not must watch Olympic TV.
2- An off-year “World Cup” puts hoops on its own stage. We have obviously seen the lure of soccer’s World Cup in a non-summer Olympic year and what it does to grow the sport globally. Baseball, kicked out of the Olympics for 2012, has created its World Baseball Classic that s growing as a non-Olympic year global event, Rugby has its World Cup despite its coming inclusion in Rio 2016. The best of the best in team sports…established team sports…need their own window where they are the central focus. (In addition to basketball, hockey is also at this crossroads, although for different reasons).
3- The Basketball World Championship Frees Branding and Sales: Olympic basketball falls under the IOC and restricts sales, TV and marketing. That would not happeb in a World Cup format, which can be sold and licensed by the NBA with FIBA, creating a huge dollar and branding flow directly to the governing bodies.
4- Under 23 Olympic Basketball Showcases The Future: Keeping men’s basketball as a Global Under 23 event in the Olympic Games ensures a competitive event that exposes new faces to the world…faces which casual and ardent fans will follow going forward. Given the elite nature of young basketball players, it certainly will still have some “star” power, the stars will be rising vs. established. That model, as in soccer, will help grow the game which after all is what the Olympics are all about…the advancement of sport.
5- It increases youth involvement and competitive nature: One of the reasons that USA Basketball fought to bring NBA players to The Games was because the rest of the world was improving at a young age in the sport, while American youth elite play was slipping. Under 23 can further grow the global game, and hopefully give young Americans a chance at Olympic glory as well…an opportunity they may not get in the current format of elite older players.
Yes there are major hoops and political battles to be fought should basketball go the route of soccer. Hockey right now is wrestling with an issue that is different…is there value enough in Olympic hockey to effectively shut down a thriving NHL season for a few weeks, while baseball could actually make a strong case for re-inclusion if basketball goes the soccer route for the future (baseball is primarily out because of the lack of MLB elite players participating since the Games are in the MLB season). Building time and equity in a global championship also has its challenges as well, and won’t happen over night.
However if the powers that be on the basketball side want to continue to grow the game globally and increase “brand basketball,” the soccer model of World Cup and young Olympians, is the smartest and most lucrative.
Great to see Kobe and company win the gold with Coach K on Sunday, but that World hampionship model could be even better for the game.