It’s an intelligent, age-old trick. Any time the whiff of criticism or even worry is in the air, you can attempt to devalue its presence by making a hyper-reach and devoid the issue of any context. NBA commissioner Adam Silver is a very smart man, and he recently did as much in discussing the issue of NBA player “sacrifice” in relation to the camp, exhibition, and FIBA World Cup commitments this summer.
With Derrick Rose having been shelved due to body fatigue and Paul George already out for what should be the 2014-15 season after badly breaking his leg in a televised scrimmage, Silver addressed reporters on Thursday about growing fears and criticism that points toward what some have criticized as a needless tournament.
"It is a big risk without enormous financial reward," Silver said when asked about a sentiment shared by outspoken Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban during a "Commitment to Service" news conference to discuss a collaboration with the U.S. Department of Defense at Madison Square Garden.
"But I am sitting next to our highest ranking military official," Silver said of General Martin Dempsey." I'm almost embarrassed to be talking about the risk that our players face compared to what our men and women in uniform face."
Come on, guy. Mr. Adam Silver-guy. This is akin to Phoenix Suns management bringing up how comparatively little firefighters make in their negotiations with frustrated restricted free agent, because they’re the real heroes, y’know?
Perhaps this is just an instance of Silver feeling ashamed in the moment , catching himself mid-answer and pointing out that, yes, it is silly to call Derrick Rose’s turn playing basketball under five-star settings “a sacrifice” with a decorated military official sitting a few feet away. If that’s the case, though, and you know these questions are coming? Don’t share the stage with a decorated military official, and don’t call your back and forth with reporters a “Commitment to Service’ news conference.” There’s a way out of such embarrassment.
Silver went on to remind that Team USA’s band of brothers were a volunteer army … OK, he didn’t state it like that, I’m paraphrasing, but it is true that Rose, George and others want to be on this team, and they want to make this particular sacrifice because it’s still fun to play with great players and compete at a high level in August and September while ably representing your country. Silver also rightfully pointed out that American-born NBA players aren’t the only ones also competing in this tourney, as Chicago Bulls and Memphis Grizzlies fans were fearfully reminded of when Pau and Marc Gasol got into a skirmish in a “friendly” match between Spain and Ukraine on Thursday.
Those other teams and players won’t feature coaches wearing polo shirts on national TV with a shoe company’s logo stretched out to the same length of the Team USA logo, prominently featured and inescapable. Those other teams aren’t providing the league’s highest-rated television partner (we love you, NBA TV, but your matinee Spain/Ukraine games don’t count) with content during the dregs of the summer. And those other teams, formidable though they may be, aren’t the ones promoting the NBA’s brand of ball overseas this summer.
As it was in 1992 with the Dream Team, a move credited with enhancing both the sport and league’s popularity across the globe. That was the first thing Adam Silver brought up, as he should, when Mark Cuban criticized the NBA’s agreement with the International Olympic Committee, and FIBA:
"The [International Olympic Committee] is playing the NBA. The IOC is an organization that has been rife with corruption, to the point where a member was accused of trying to fix an Olympic event in Salt Lake. The IOC [pulls in] billions of dollars. They make a killing and make Tony Soprano look like a saint.
"The pros in multiple sports are smart enough to not play when they are eligible free agents. But teams take on huge financial risk so that the IOC committee members can line their pockets.
"The greatest trick ever played was the IOC convincing the world that the Olympics were about patriotism and national pride instead of money. The players and owners should get together and create our own World Cup of Basketball."
Cuban vacillates between talking up the good health and well being of NBA players and more typical revenue concerns of his – the NBA doesn’t get the same exposure (and actual cash) that the international bodies, that shoe company, ESPN and Duke University will take in, and Mark wants the league to set up its own tournament that sees the league taking in the actual profits. Oh, and, the whole thing about allowing teams to pull its players from any tourney for reasons that would go beyond the “reasonable medical concern”-tag that is already in place.
That’s not going to happen any time soon, not with that shoe company, Coach Mike Krzyzewski, Jerry Colangelo, and the IOC still lording over their sweetheart deal. Silver has mentioned twice this summer that the role of international play will be brought up in this November’s NBA Board of Governors meeting, but the tone and eventual impact of those discussions remains to be seen.
Silver also relayed Larry Bird’s early-in-the-proceedings quote about Paul George’s injury on Wednesday evening, reminding us that these sorts of injuries can happen any time – whether it’s at an NBA practice facility with full staff managing the goings-on, a Team USA scrimmage, or Nick Young firing up 30-footers in some summertime tourney. Bird and Silver are right, and Silver was correct to point out that if players were going to practice and/or participate in any tournament at any point during the summer, the best choice would certainly be to do so in full view of the Team USA coaching and medical staff.
We’ve been lucky, outside of George’s injury, that NBA seasons haven’t been plagued with players still smarting from a late summer stint on a national team. Manu Ginobili sprained his right (jumping) ankle during the 2002 World Championships and it stayed with him for the duration of his entire (championship) rookie year, but he wasn’t even a technical member of the San Antonio Spurs at the time. Playing international ball just about every summer for a decade gave Toni Kukoc a nasty case of plantar fasciitis in the 1996-97 and 1997-98 seasons, but that was a different era.
There were a spate of player injuries to former Athens Olympics NBA athletes during the 2004-05 season that some writers attributed to their time spent in Greece, but the connection to those injuries and the Games was tangential at best. The most severe of which, Richard Jefferson’s season-ending wrist injury, occurred when he was undercut by Chauncey Billups near the basket.
These things build up, though.
Most can agree that the NBA’s regular season is too long, but few (not including myself, I kind of like watching LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki go at it twice a year) actually want the season shortened. It would be nicer if the NBA debuted its season earlier in October so as to allow for more time between games and a proper All-Star break, but the league seems pretty steadfast in not attempting to go up against the baseball playoffs. Good for TV rewards, to be sure, but maybe not as much for the league’s players – who are getting faster and stronger while being asked to do more and more.
What LeBron is doing right now (four straight years in the Finals, a harried exhibition schedule, international play tossed in the 2012 offseason) is just about unprecedented, and though no medical licenses hang on our walls, and a faulty air conditioner was to blame, one couldn’t get away from thoughts about James’ workload as he sat on the sidelines with cramps in what at that time was the most important game of his NBA career.
It’s a delicate, tricky situation. There is no direct line between international play and NBA athletes eventually breaking down; but that’s just as of the summer of 2014. International exposure is good and the NBA is far from at saturation point in that realm, but it’s not needed nearly as much as it was in 1992. Stars like Kevin Durant have the option to pull themselves out citing fatigue, but a move like that brings needless criticism – one national writer (whom I won’t link to, because it was a clickbait piece) that was hired by both the Associated Press and ESPN to be their lead NBA reporter at previous stops, bashed the 2014 MVP for in the writer’s estimation choosing endorsement possibilities over national pride.
We don’t want basketball to stop. On Wednesday night I had to watch a rain-delayed baseball game and actually interact with my children, for heaven’s sake. This unholy but wonderful mix of emerging young talent, returning stars, and a player in Derrick Rose looking to start it all over again has been wonderful to behold, even with all those shoe company logos everywhere. Just one guy has been injured, and though the setback will turn an entire franchise (and fanbase) on its ear, that’s just still one guy in 22 years of the NBA encouraging its players to represent their country.
The process by which we build these teams, though, needs a revisit. And Adam Silver can’t insult smart questions by hiding behind the cloak of those whose sacrifices were much greater as he ponders change.
- - - - - - -