“Off the Rim” is a column by Sarah Ko about basketball.
Last week, Lakers power forward Kyle Kuzma announced his retraction from Team USA’s roster to focus on rehabbing an ankle injury. This makes him the 14th player to drop out of the Olympic roster this summer.
Does the threat of injury during the NBA’s offseason scare players? Of course; everyone would choose to prevent injury if possible. Thus, players would rather spend the summers recuperating and training for the NBA season than participating in the Olympic Games.
Not having a strong American presence at a seemingly American dominated sport deteriorates our nationalism. Without favored players participating in the Olympics, basketball fans are left to be unamused and would rather wait for the upcoming NBA season instead of supporting the USA national team. And this is all because winning an NBA Championship carries precedence over winning an Olympic Gold medal.
Recall Paul George’s devastatingly iconic injury during Team USA’s scrimmage in 2014. After coming down from a block attempt, PG suffered a fractured tibia and fibula. His injury haunts future prospects from joining the Olympic team, as it prohibited him from competing in the next NBA season.
On Tuesday, Boston Celtics break-out star Jayson Tatum sprained his ankle during the final seconds in overtime versus Turkey in the FIBA World Cup.
These injuries turn the most talented players such as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Steph Curry away from participating in future Olympic Games.
It’s no secret that the NBA is comprised of the world’s most elite, talented players. In fact, international players train immensely in hopes of one day making it to the NBA. For instance, current Arizona Suns point guard Ricky Rubio made his debut in the 2005 Spanish ACB League at age 14 and was later drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2011.
If the finest international competitors are playing in the NBA, then the remaining talent abroad is disproportionate to NBA players. So why bother contesting against other countries when the highest level of performance already exists in the US? For athletes, the drive and hunger to win an international competition dissipates when competing against a mismatched team.
Plus, Team USA pays significantly less than the NBA. Travel and training compensation is provided, but they only receive $37,500 if they win a gold medal. These American players sign million-dollar contracts, which makes winning a gold medal an “extracurricular activity.” Though, attaining a gold medal may prove to be more of a challenge than anyone ever anticipated.
Placing below gold is frightening for any NBA fan. How did they go from the 1992 Dream Team to a hodgepodge of random athletes, especially if the NBA is more talented than ever before?
As the top NBA players prioritize winning a championship, Team USA’s coaches have no choice but to pick the second-unit players left in the rotation. Additionally, the possibility of adding at least one superstar is now out of the question. Portland Blazers star shooting guard CJ McCollum talked about what being a lone star on the roster would mean with ESPN Sports Columnist Adrian Wojnarowski on his podcast The Woj Pod Show.
“I think other guys looked at it like, ‘Why would I want to go potentially be the face of what could be a losing roster,’” McCollum said.
So, saving face is more important than representing your country?
Team USA team used to be worshipped like the NBA All-Star teams, comprising of the most talented individuals in the league. Now, the Olympic roster is deteriorating. That is not without reason.
There is absolutely no reason for NBA players to participate in the Summer Games if they are risking themselves for injury, playing against weaker opponents and making less money. How do we eliminate these factors and persuade them that playing for their nation holds more significance than winning an NBA Championship?
The NBA should emphasize that playing for Team USA not only sets the tone for American basketball but it also creates a sense of patriotism by bringing people together through the love of sports, exuding the original motives of the Olympic Games. If NBA stars collectively do not want to represent the USA, how does that reflect on our country’s reputation internationally?
“Off the Rim” runs every Thursday.