By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) Take the kids, leave the superstars.
The hideous injury suffered by Paul George in Friday’s Team USA exhibition game in Las Vegas is indeed the latest convenient reason to reiterate this, and I make no apologies for such opportunism when it’s something so obvious. These NBA players making massive percentages of their team’s respective salary caps have no business incurring needless physical risk in an attempt to accomplish something so unimportant.
I don’t care about American basketball hegemony, nor do most fans of the pro game. The all-star atmosphere and camaraderie are a nice sell for all the new merchandise, but most of those purchasing any flag-draped swag have no idea what the bother is.
(It’s all for the FIBA World Championships or “World Cup,” if you prefer. It’s in Spain.)
Here is the beautifully internationalized NBA celebrating its global inclusiveness at every turn, only to cede authority over its most valuable assets for six weeks just so Mike Krzyzewski can have a team so talented that even he can’t find a way to have the wrong guy with the ball at a critical time.
There but for the grace of good fortune go the rest of the immensely important players, with the competitive fates of giant businesses linked to the smallest tweak of a knee or bend of a thumb. Why bother with all the overheated bluster of collective bargaining between players and ownership to equitably divide profits when resources are just handed over to the auspices of USA Basketball?
I thought the Dream Team put an end to all this. Are we still chasing the ghosts of the 1972 Olympics? Exacting revenge for the 2002 Worlds? The 2004 Olympic bronze? The loss to Greece in the 2006 World semis that was so embarrassing to you as an American that you have no idea what I’m talking about?
The Los Angeles Clippers sold for $2 billion. The Milwaukee Bucks – a terrible team in a city the same size as Albuquerque – were purchased for $500 million. Those companies and their NBA brethren between and beyond them on the valuation scale need to grab commissioner Adam Silver by the lapels, drag him into a conference room, throw him into a chair across the table from Jerry Colangelo and demand that he say enough is enough.
If he can, he should work it out with FIBA or the individual governing bodies in any of the players’ home countries that these competitions are for the youngsters. Pick an age, and leave the working adults at home to rest and prepare for their jobs. A smaller nation taking fierce pride in its performance on the national stage may want a willing native son to represent, so have them agree to reimburse estimated revenue or potential revenue lost to injury from their treasury. Better yet, establish a metric threshold for performance/salary/value that after a certain point automatically renders an NBA player internationally untouchable.
It’s all a fleeting photo op that unnecessarily plays fast and loose with the finite minutes of pro careers. The gruesome George injury was the latest reminder of the possibility of such trauma, but it’s enough to point out the overall pounding. I know all of these guys like to play through the offseason, but don’t compare pickup games or workouts with friends and private coaches to this kind of competition, particularly for those more pressured by their country to perform.
There’s Derrick Rose, back to jetting around and above people all in the name of ‘Merica as he makes nearly $95 million from the Bulls. And there’s Tom Thibodeau, too, the perfect symbol of too-often misguided intensity – bellowing defensive calls like a dyspeptic walrus during an intrasquad scrimmage, preparing his returning star for what lies just after the World Cup: his annual quest to ride his starters to the mythical preseason championship that seems to matter as much to him as any kind of medal.
NBA teams are capped and taxed, and they’re engineered tightly by teams of accountants to advise basketball management on the distribution of dollars over short-, medium- and long-term time horizons. The ensuing chaos caused by an interruption of plan due to injury is understandable when it occurs during the conduct of league business. That’s an assumed risk.
But for this, it’s just not worth it.
USA Basketball is a not-for-profit organization that needs to keep its fingers out of more important things and its hands off those who actually have something invested.