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This summer, a contingent of NBA stars will head to London to represent Team USA. There will be lots of discussion about how they're doing it for pride in their country and love of the game. It's a nice promotional exercise for the league and its corporate partners (chiefly shoe and apparel companies), all of whom can make money while talking about abstract values like honor and integrity. Everyone wins!
Yet, while players get to luxuriate in those values for a couple weeks, they don't actually get paid for the experience. Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen don't agree with that policy. Here's Wade, as reported by Michael Wallace of ESPN.com (via SLAM):
"It's a lot of things you do for the Olympics -- a lot of jerseys you sell," Wade said after the Heat's practice on Wednesday in advance of Thursday's game against Chicago. "We play the whole summer. I do think guys should be compensated. Just like I think college players should be compensated as well. Unfortunately, it's not there. But I think it should be something, you know, there for it."
Wade said he hasn't thought about how much players should be paid for their time. But he said there is a demanding schedule that comes with a commitment to the national team. This summer, NBA players whose teams advance deep into the playoffs could have only a couple of weeks of down time before the start of Team USA's training camp in late July.
"You talk about the patriotism that guys should want to play for, but you (need to) find a way to entice the guys," Allen said. "It's not the easiest thing in the world if you play deep in the playoffs and then you get two, three weeks off and then you start training again to play more basketball where it requires you to be away from home and in another country. It's fun, but your body does need a break.
"Everybody says, 'Play for your country.' But (NBA players are) commodities, your businesses. You think about it, you do camps in the summer, you have various opportunities to make money. When you go overseas and play basketball, you lose those opportunities, what you may make… If I'm an accountant and I get outsourced by my firm, I'm going to make some money somewhere else."
There's a certain selfishness to this view, particularly in the context of amateur athletes in other sports who devote their entire lives to training and expect little in return beyond a few weeks of fame and some minor endorsements. NBA players have different lifestyles, but it's hard to imagine the U.S. Olympic Committee paying them and not everyone else involved in competition. Even if their time is technically deemed to be worth more by every market in the world, that doesn't mean they should be paid in this particular instance.
Yet there's still some value to be taken from these comments, because it helps prove that the ideas of honor and pride that overwhelm Team USA narratives aren't the full story. Stars will play in London this summer now just to represent their countries, but to increase their international profiles and make some calculated statements about why they're willing to play in international tournaments. Even mentioning the concept of money shows that they have other interests.
They can tell us it's about patriotism, and that's at least partially true. Of course, it's also about business. They might not say it, but the NBA and Nike would agree.