The best way for the international game to thrive is by allowing them to play in qualifiers, even if they happen during the middle of the season.
The NBA is the best men’s professional basketball league in the world. No one disputes that. Because of the league’s reputation worldwide, the player ranks have grown increasingly international in the last 20-30 years. In the 2020-21 season alone, 107 players in the league were from countries not named the United States of America. This trend will only increase in the long run.
The days of assuming that the NBA MVP will always be an American from New York City, Los Angeles or even here in the DMV are long gone. A European NBA player has been the NBA MVP for each of the last three seasons (Giannis Antetokounmpo from Greece in 2018-19 and 2019-20 and Nikola Jokic from Serbia in 2020-21).
Many of the rising stars in the NBA are not Americans, like Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks. And even NBA 2K recognizes that by putting Doncic on the American cover of their video game as well as Washington Wizards forward Rui Hachimura for the Japanese edition.
And all of that leads me to this question, considering how much NBA talent there was in the 2020 Olympics just a few weeks ago in Tokyo. Should the NBA allow its players to play for their countries for continental tournament qualifiers, like the FIBA AmeriCup for the USA among others when such periods are during the middle of the NBA season?
I know. Many, if not most of you think that “everything is fine.” Despite a slow start in friendlies last July, the USA ultimately won the Gold Medal in the Tokyo Olympics. So why not let G-Leagues toil away in AmeriCup qualifiers for Team USA?
To me, it’s not just a Team USA thing. It’s a world thing.
I think all of us would like to see a FIBA World Cup or an AmeriCup/EuroBasket/AfroBasket/Asia Cup where the best players (or at least most of the best players) from each country are playing. For the Americans, the USA is currently 6-0 in Group D for the 2022 AmeriCup and will go there, so … why should I talk about this now? Is this a moot point?
To me, not really. There will always be another future AmeriCup (or other continental tournament), a World Cup and an Olympics on the line. And I think the NBA should be more proactive about allowing players to participate for their countries, even when qualifiers are often in November and February, right as the NBA season is going on.
In FIBA Europe especially, professional teams there will break for these qualifier periods. Some countries like Slovenia, who have an MVP-caliber player like Doncic currently can’t have him on there for a November or February game. In an extreme scenario, it would be unfortunate for a country like Slovenia not to be in a future EuroBasket, World Cup or Olympics simply because their best player was not allowed to be in a qualifier during the winter. To be clear, Slovenia will be in the next EuroBasket.
As for the USA, I think the governing body needs to take the international game more seriously by bringing in a core group of players who are together for years at a time and playing meaningful games, even in between World Cups and Olympics. And we got to see first hand just how sloppy the Americans looked during their friendlies against Nigeria and Australia. If the Americans took the international game seriously with a core group of very good (though not necessarily superstar) players, they would have won at least one of those games.
Do you feel that the NBA should allow its players to be in continental qualifiers and break the season during these points like European teams do? Or to you, do you think the ship not broken in the grand scheme of things? Let us know in the comments below.