When we talk about the NBA, we generally talk about it as the greatest basketball event in the world. The league was where legends like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Lebron James played. It´s the place to go if you´re an aspiring or an up-and-coming basketball player. Even in the international spectacle, the NBA has helped the sport grow exponentially, thanks, in big time, to the work of David Stern.
David Stern was the NBA Commissioner from 1984 to 2014 and during his tenure, the NBA enjoyed a golden age of generational talent. Stern understood that the NBA had to be an international spectacle for the rest of the world to enjoy. When you have a product like Michael Jordan, you want, you need everybody to know him. “(Stern) grew the League into an International phenomenon, creating opportunities that few could have imagined before. His vision and leadership provided me with the global stage that allowed me to succeed”, said Michael Jordan.
Stern´s vision for the game was one of expansion. One that would allow the game of basketball to be played globally and to have the NBA at the centre of it. That vision went on to be reflected, to some extent, in the Olympic Games, when in 1992, USA presented the “Dream Team”. As the name indicated, it was a team filled with all-stars of the game, all NBA players. By that time, only 3 other countries had NBA calibre players, Germany, Lithuania and Croatia. I believe that the ´92 Olympics marked a before and after for international basketball.
Fast forward 31 years later and Germany just won the FIBA World Cup for the first time. Yes, one may argue that the USA prefers the Olympics rather than the World Cup, but still, a World Cup is something to pry about. Normally, Team USA would throw a spectacle of a talented bunch of players, whether it´s for the Olympics or World Cup creating not only favouritism but also expectation of wins by huge margins. Well, it hasn´t been the case recently. “The game has been globalized over the past 30 years. These games are difficult. This is not 1992 anymore. Players are better all over the world. Teams are better. It´s not easy to win the World Cup or the Olympics”, said Steve Kerr, USA’s Head Coach after losing the semi-finals.
These are facts, the game has evolved and nowadays basketball is being played everywhere. There are strong leagues around the world, promoting and creating a new wave of players. We can argue that one of, if not the best players right now in the NBA is Serbian (Nikola Jokic), winner of this year’s NBA Title and NBA Finals MVP. We can also talk about Giannis Antetokounmpo, a Greek player, also NBA Champion and MVP. Let´s throw Luka Doncic to the mix, a young, versatile player, who joined the NBA after going pro in Europe. Retired players like Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki and Manu Ginobili also dominated the league when they were around. It´s safe to say that Stern´s legacy and work have given results, basketball is universal.
“You know what hurts me the most is that I have to watch the NBA Finals and they have `World Champion` on their head. World Champions of what? The United States? Don´t get me wrong. I love the U.S.- at times- but that ain´t the world.” Said U.S. sprinter Noah Lyles after winning his third gold medal at the track and field World Championship in Budapest. Those comments triggered a lot of negative reactions from NBA stars, including Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Bam Adebayo, and Draymond Green – arguing that in fact, the NBA is the best league in the world. However, roughly 3 weeks after, team USA went down in the semi-finals vs. Germany.
It is true that most of every major sports league in the US, colloquially, carries the title of “World Champions”. So, maybe it´s a marketing strategy or simply because it´s believed that there is where the best players are. To be fair, most of the banners hanging from the ceiling of the stadiums do say “NBA Champions”. Nonetheless, this particular elimination sparked interest in a legend. Lebon James said he was ready to commit to the Paris 2024 Olympics. Steph Curry, Anthony Davis, Draymond Green, Jayson Tatum, and Kevin Durant- are some of the names that Lebron has reached out to and that are seriously considering.
This means that we´ll be having another generational talent team in the upcoming Olympics. It will be incredibly fun to watch. Nevertheless, don´t expect Team USA to overpower everyone like before. Yes, they will probably be still strong favourites, but the game has evolved, changed and become global and even if the best are playing, expect other teams to surprise.