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Time for America to Limp Away From International Basketball

The horrific injury to Paul George illustrates the risk Team USA takes playing in a tournament it can only lose.


Photo: Ethan Miller / Getty Images
 

Paul George won't be playing basketball for a while. Breaks of the fibula and the tibia make it hard to drive to the hoop. The Pacers' best player – one of the NBA’s most exciting young stars – will miss the 2014-2015 season in its entirety and there’s no guarantee he’ll be ready for the season after that. And for what? Because he wanted to participate in a second rate international competition in which players risk injury for little reward.

Don’t blame George though. By all accounts, he was one of Team USA’s proudest members, eager to represent his country in international competition for the first time. Unfortunately, his rise in basketball prominence has fallen in between Olympic cycles. The utterly pointless FIBA World Cup is where his international career had to begin. And now it’s where it may end.

Founded in 1950, the FIBA championships exist to establish international basketball superiority on a quadrennial basis. That might sound familiar because it’s exactly what the Olympics do. And unlike soccer, which restricts Olympic teams to younger players, Olympic basketball rosters, like FIBA World Cup rosters, are composed entirely of professionals. Which leads one to wonder: Why even have the FIBA World Cup? The answer is (drumroll) money.

The 2010 FIBA World Championships - FIBA recently started calling the tournament the World Cup in hopes people would confuse it with the real one - made $50 million for the organizers, up 50 percent from four years prior. There’s no reason to think that number won’t get even bigger this year. None of that money goes to the players though. They play for pride. For athletes, specifically American athletes in professional leagues, the chance to represent America is rare and cherished. Players want to be on Team USA even if Team USA is playing in a redundant tournament.

But Americans don’t care about Team USA when Team USA is playing in a tournament that – prior to George’s injury – most of the country had forgotten about.  In America, we covet Olympic medals, but other countries care significantly more about the FIBA World Cup. That means that both events would benefit from the death of the other and brings us to a simple proposal: Boycott FIBA. If the U.S., always the presumptive favorite, skips the tournament than it becomes just another event, a sort of international NIT. In the meanwhile, we’ll keep our players healthy for the NBA season.

Other countries won’t like the U.S. bowing out of international competition, but they can – to be frank – stuff it. The tournament is currently being sponsored by patriotic American players eager to pull on the red, white, and blue. Preying upon that sense of pride by asking stars like George to take on risk while playing in a tournament they can only lose is cheap and silly. Any team that wants to beat America can wait until the Olympics and try their luck with post-rehab George – also LeBron.

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