The NBA, Team USA and the FIBA World Cup
A young sport, basketball quickly became an international pastime. The NBA may take the lion’s share of the attention, but the EuroLeague and domestic competitions like the Liga ACB aren’t far behind. Today, sports betting welcome offers cover leagues around the world, and even basketball retail sales can be ordered online from just about anywhere.
Despite the sport’s global presence, basketball does not have a unified organization. The NBA controls the sport in North America, while the EuroLeague dominates Europe. Meanwhile, FIBA and the Olympics feature the only unified global competitions and NBA players are notably absent from the rosters.
The Olympics often present difficult scheduling issues, but the FIBA World Cup should (theoretically) be more inclusive of NBA stars. Either way, there’s no solid roster for Team USA yet…and the FIBA World Cup has been around since 1950. The first tournament in which NBA players participated was the 1994 FIBA World Championship in Canada.
So what are the deeper issues underpinning the international competition of the NBA and FIBA?
Priorities in the NBA
There are a few basic reasons why NBA players have shown little interest in the FIBA Basketball World Cup. First, the NBA does not depend on FIBA for its visibility, profits or infrastructure. Although FIBA claims to be the world governing body for basketball, it has no influence over the NBA, which is bolstered by over 1,000 participating NCAA schools that compete in college basketball.
Second, there are serious scheduling issues for NBA players who want to play for Team USA in the Olympics or FIBA. Previously, Team USA required NBA players to sign multi-year contracts to commit to the Olympics and The FIBA World Cup as a package.
With extra travel, training and international appearances, it was an easy no for most players. For context, FIBA and Olympic qualifying often takes place mid-season, which is one of the few times a year when NBA stars need to relax and refocus.
Finally, NBA players are the highest paid basketball stars in the world; appearances in FIBA competitions are considered exhibitions. They don’t want to risk injury or any other risk for their regular season. For example, one of the NBA’s biggest stars, Paul George, injured his leg while on a practice run with Team USA in 2014. He was out for the rest of the season.
Team USA languishes overseas
There is an important caveat for the future of FIBA: more and more players are coming from abroad to the United States to play in the NBA. In 2020-21, there were 207 players on NBA rosters outside of the United States and Canada. NBA MVPs now come from all over the world: Giannis Antetokounmpo is from Greece, Nikola Jokic from Serbia, Luka Doncic from Slovenia.
This is sure to change the future of the FIBA Basketball World Cup. As other countries create more competitive teams, Team USA (and Team Canada) may be filled with more NBA players eager to prove their country is still on top.
Additionally, the United States is planning to make changes to its Team USA policy. By reducing the commitment of NBA players and separating participation in the Olympics from the FIBA World Cup, more players could choose to join the roster.
A No-Go for 2023 and 2024
The FIBA World Cup is being structured as a qualifier for the Olympics right now… and while USA Basketball President Grant Hill wants to change the current contractual obligations of NBA players, there is no yet had policy change.
Currently, the next FIBA World Cup will take place in the summer of 2023, which will be directly followed by the Olympics in 2024. As it stands, the NBA stars will accept a multi-year commitment on the USA team , which will swallow up their free summers with international travel and competition,
In other words, it’s an easy pass for the vast majority of NBA players. And it’s also worth keeping in mind that an NBA player’s free summer is also a turbulent time in free agency for many. They’re not just lounging around the house, they’re also working with their agents to craft new deals for years to come.