NBA Stars Overkill

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This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

Are you a basketball fan? Second question. Are you following the World Basketball Championships? They say if you're a true fan of a sport, you'll watch a game at any level at all, as long as the competition is close. There are Major League Baseball teams reportedly tuning in to the Little League World Series right now on their dugout and locker-room monitors. So I ask you, "Are you a hoops fan and are you watching the World Basketball Championships?"

I understand why we have put together a force of a team for these current Worlds in Japan. We have underestimated both the playing and coaching skills that exist in many pockets of the world over the last decade. Actually, we can reach all the way back to the 1972 Munich Olympics and the most controversial international basketball game in history to analyze America's hurt pride on the hardwood. The Cold War still raged and the final was a classic: the Soviet Union versus the United States. It was also still the era of amateurs only at the Olympics. Both teams had moved through the Games with perfect records of 8-and-0. The second half got very physical. Two players were ejected. Another suffered a concussion in a violent melee. At the very end, there were fouls and confusion, resetting of the clock, protests of time outs called, further resetting of the clock, and with yet another disputed three seconds added to the game, the Soviets threw in the final lay-up to take the gold. The Americans were outraged to the point of refusing to accept their silver medals.

It was that heated night in Munich that set the stage for today's decisions to send our NBA stars to the Worlds in Sapporo. After Munich, American men's basketball started lobbying for the cream of the American crop, including the pros, to represent the USA in international tournaments. It wasn't until 1989 that the Olympics opened up to that concept and, sure enough, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and crew basically put on an exhibition in dominating for the gold in Barcelona, 1992. That's when our superiority complex set in. We are Basketball Nation. Foreign players come here to experience hoops at the top-dog level. We started sending less-than-the-absolute-best players to wear the USA uniforms in international competition. We barely gave them time to hook up together for practices before overseas tournaments. We started to lose.

Our sixth place finish at the last World Championships, 2002 was a total embarrassment. Then we crashed to a perplexing bronze medal at the Athens Olympics, 2004. Add those losses to the US faring poorly in this spring's World Baseball Classic, as well as this summer's World Cup soccer championships, and you understand why we loaded up the team for the Worlds in Japan with high-octane talent. But was it a wise move?

The idea is that Dwayne Wade and Carmelo Anthony and Elton Brand and LeBron James will take this and the next two off-seasons to jell as a fine-tuned machine and then sweep onto the courts for the Beijing Olympics 2008 as the gold medalists that should have been in Athens.

As I watch them hustle and pour their hearts into these World Championships, all I can think of is the very, very long NBA season and how weary these superstars' legs will be come next June and time for those championships. Four or five years down the road, with the Beijing gold medal in hand, we may even see the awesome talents of James and Wade sadly and prematurely slowed because of all the off-season energy they put into Team USA. Worse, we may find them injured and out of the game altogether, because of these added months of exertion each summer. Couldn't our top college guns win the Worlds for us? How about NBA rookies who might not see a lot of time off the bench this coming year?

And back to my original question. Who's watching these World Championships anyway?

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.



Diana Nyad