When Jerry Colangelo was named director of USA Basketball in 2005, he took over an organization that had fallen from grace. After dominating the international basketball landscape since the introduction of the Dream Team in 1992, Team USA finished in sixth place at the 2002 World Championships (hosted in Indianapolis) and managed to earn only the bronze medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics. For a national team used to blowing out every opponent, there were dark times.
Despite some early disappointments, Colangelo's reign as head of USA Basketball has been a resounding success, with the sport's greatest American stars returning to the national team, winning gold medals, and generally restoring honor to an organization that had lost its aura. While LeBron James could be done with the national team, the future looks bright, as well, with young stars like Kevin Durant committed to the cause for the foreseeable future. Once again, the best players in the world want to play for their country.
The Team USA brand has regained strength, as well. As announced on Wednesday and first reported by the Arizona Republic weeks ago, USA Basketball plans to move from Colorado to Arizona by 2015, building a new complex complete with state-of-the-art amenities and commercial enterprises, as well. From the press release:
USA Basketball today officially announced that it has agreed to relocate to Tempe, Arizona, as part of a $350 million development project. USA Place, LLC, has been selected to develop a new national headquarters and training center for USA Basketball on a 10.5-acre site located next to Arizona State University’s Tempe campus on land owned by ASU at the southeast corner of Mill Avenue and University Drive.
In addition to the USA Basketball headquarters and training center, USA Place will also include a 4,500-seat event center, as well as a 330-room Omni Hotel and 30,000-square-foot conference center, 500 luxury apartments, 160,000 square feet of retail and up to 200,000 square feet of office space, including the new home for Arizona Interscholastic Association events. [...]
“This is an exciting and an incredible opportunity that offers nothing but positives for USA Basketball,” said USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo. “USA Place will offer USA Basketball an excellent site for the development of its office headquarters, a training center and event center that will provide the organization with a first-class site for hosting junior level events and will allow USA Basketball to continue to evolve.
“The new USA Basketball headquarters and training center will be first-class, state of art facilities, something I know we will be very proud of.”
There is a tendency to think of a national team as a throwback to a simpler era (that likely never existed), when athletes played for the love of the game and their own bonds to the values of the sport. Playing for Team USA is supposed to be an honor in itself, something grounded in nationalism and the sort of higher ideals apart from the contracts and endorsements that supposedly drive attempts to succeed in the NBA.
This new complex should put the lie to those claims, or at least to the idea that USA Basketball is just about these pure qualities. It's not merely a new home for USA Basketball, but a larger project with partners that include major real-estate and development firms. The hotel, office space, retail space, and apartments suggests an attempt to grow the USA Basketball brand. In other words, it puts this organization in the same sort of world occupied by the NBA and other basketball-adjacent business ventures.
USA Basketball is a non-profit organization, but it also has close ties to some of the biggest brands in sports: the NBA, Nike, various Team USA sponsors like Coca-Cola, etc. As explained in a recent story by David Aldridge of NBA.com, fixing USA Basketball's relationship with Nike was one of Colangelo's most important and most immediate challenges when he started his job in 2005. The national team is just as involved with its corporate partners as any major basketball entity, which makes it difficult to argue that it's somehow a totally different kind of experience simply because its players wear the colors of the American flag and feel some sense of national pride. The goals of USA Basketball are similar to those of the NBA and its franchises: build a brand, leverage it for attention and various tie-ins, and reap the benefits. The new complex is part of that process.
There's nothing especially wrong with this approach — it's a commonly accepted aspect of basketball business. But it does help emphasize the extent to which USA Basketball is entrenched in the broader world of American basketball. When a player opts not to be part of Team USA or considers another opportunity more rewarding, he's not turning his back on his country. He's making a professional decision, much the same as the people who run USA Basketball. With financial stakes this high, pride only matters so much.