Making the Case for Keeping Best in Olympic Hoops

U.S. pulls away after tight first half to close out opening round

David Stern and others in the NBA have been making noise about changing the face of Olympic basketball when Rio hosts the Games in 2012.

The man who thinks that 18-year-olds are too young for his league has hinted about making the basketball competition limited to players 23 and under, a move that is somehow equally greedy and shortsighted about economy. The greed comes from the desire to hold an NBA-operated World Cup of Basketball that would send money to the league's owners instead of to the International Olympic Committee.

Given how much fuss was just made about Jeremy Lin, we shouldn't need to point out the benefits of international exposure for NBA teams. Not that you need to evoke Lin's name in a league that has grown exponentially since they first introduced the Dream Team to the world in 1992.

There are great benefits to having the best players in the world playing in the Olympic Games, although it is surely too great a leap to suggest that every owner in the NBA is smart enough to find a way to leverage those benefits into more financial success for themselves.

As the man who grew the NBA from an afterthought to a main event, Stern should be able to see those benefits and explain them to a group that pays someone like Landry Fields big money as a free agent.

You could start by showing them a tape of the United States' 126-97 win over Argentina, a game that the U.S. blew open in the second half after a serious battle in the first half. Anyone who saw that game saw Kevin Durant playing his otherworldly brand of offensive basketball and it is impossible to imagine watching it without seeing the potential to sell that around the world every four years.

The game was so hotly contested that Carmelo Anthony took a cheap shot to the groin near the end of the third quarter, something that seemed to touch off an even deeper level of play from the Americans. And that was just a preliminary game.

The medal round is going to be stuffed wall-to-wall with great players playing close games and shooting for an upset for the ages against the United States. Impossible? Ask Mike Eruzione.

Baseball is gone from the Olympics because the lack of world class players made the games totally irrelevant. Basketball could not be more relevant right now and every one of these games is free marketing for the league worth an infinite amount of money in an increasingly global market.

Is it too one-sided? Perhaps, but the post-1992 basketball world has improved across the board with blinding speed and that's something that is hard to imagine happening without the NBA jumping on board.

And overwhelming victories by one or two countries don't seem to bother anyone when it comes to cycling, badminton, table tennis or certain swimming events. Such is the nature of the Olympic Games and the narrative of trying to topple the king of the hill has always been a popular one in sports.

If the NBA tries to pull some shenanigans when it comes to the Olympic rosters, the IOC should call their bluff and drop basketball from the program. The Olympics is about the best athletes in the world and nothing else should be acceptable as part of the program.

Soccer is the best example of that. It's going to be hard for any Olympic event to top the thrills of Monday's U.S.-Canada game that ended with Alex Morgan's header for goal with 30 seconds left in what wound up as a 4-3 win and berth in the gold medal game for the United States.

It was consequential, nerve-racking and memorable. Those three words will never be mentioned about men's soccer, which has the age restrictions basketball is thinking about and not even a scintilla of the relevance that the distaff side brings to the table.

Seeing the way that has played out forces you to ask just one question of Stern and his cronies. Why would the NBA willingly relegate its sport to a second class spot in the global sports hierarchy when being on the first tier has been one of the greatest successes in the history of the game?

London 2012 is here. Get the top Olympic news, including what to watch, results and features on our local athletes here.

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