With Team USA’s roster for the 2016 Olympics being released earlier this week, it may seem that representing one’s country at the summer games is a dying trend. After all, many of the NBA’s premier stars opted to skip this year.
And that raises an even bigger question: is the future of Olympic basketball in the United States in trouble?
Looking at it from an outsider’s perspective, it seems like an honor and a privilege to don the iconic red white and blue, an invitation so immaculate that it’s almost undeniable. What person in their right mind would decline the opportunity to take in a whole new culture with some of the most celebrated people on the planet, all while playing the game they love?
But from a player’s perspective, the consequences may outweigh the benefits. They all just grinded through an intense 82-game regular season, and most of them made a respectable run through the even more intense postseason. Their bodies are beaten down from taking the floor every other night for 8 months, and they’re in dire need of rest.
And when the invite comes from Team USA to take part in the summer games, they’re left with a tough decision; do I use my off-season to rest, recover, and improve myself for next season, or do I dedicate my entire summer to my country, battering my body even further and leaving myself with virtually no time to recoup for the upcoming campaign?
And for the longest time, players chose the ladder and represented their country. It wasn’t until recently that we’ve seen the trend start to reverse, and more and more players have skipped out on their international “responsibilities”, not that they owed America anything in the first place.
But there’s a method to the madness, and it’s of no concern to the future of the Olympic team.
The most notable players to skip out this year are LeBron James, Steph Curry, Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant. They’re all either recovering from injury (Steph and CP3), or have given everything they had to the national team (LeBron and Kobe).
The stars just aligned this year where many of the NBA’s most profitable players were left with no choice but to decline the invitation. It’s the exception, not the rule.
In fact, out of the 24 American-born players selected to the 2016 All-Star game, 22 have competed for Team USA in a competitive tournament. And the two exceptions, John Wall and Paul Millsap, were among the final cuts for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
The stars of the past that have lit up previous Olympics have already given away numerous summers for the sake of the country. They never owed the United States anything to begin with, but their contributions go beyond measure.
We were spoiled for years watching some of the greatest players ever take the floor as a cohesive unit. From those brilliant performances, unrealistic expectations were made that every single Olympic team should be of that caliber. But in reality, we’ll only see teams as good as the 2008 and 2012 teams once or twice a generation.
And for that, Olympic basketball is by no means dying. What we’re witnessing now is a new crop of budding stars, the next generation. So instead of talking about how great the Olympic team used to be, let’s appreciate the talent that’s about to be put on display in Rio, for these players will shape the NBA landscape for years to come.