Mark Cuban has it all wrong

ASSOCIATED PRESS Paul George's injury sparked debate about wisdom of using NBA players in international tourneys.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Paul George's injury sparked debate about wisdom of using NBA players in international tourneys.
Posted: August 06, 2014

CONSIDERING the millions of guaranteed dollars they invest in players, I can certainly understand why the Dallas Mavericks' Mark Cuban and other NBA owners might want more say in their players' involvement in international competitions like the upcoming FIBA World Cup of Basketball.

After Indiana Pacers All-Star Paul George broke his right leg while practicing with Team USA this weekend, how could an owner not cringe at the thought of a franchise player going down for a tournament that many feel does little to help the NBA?

"The [International Olympic Committee] is playing the NBA," Cuban, a longtime critic of NBA players playing in international tournaments, told ESPN.com. "The IOC [pulls in] billions of dollars . . .

"Teams take on huge financial risk so that the IOC committee members can line their pockets."

Here, however, is where you have to understand that Cuban's issue isn't necessarily about NBA players risking injury or fatigue by playing in FIBA or Olympic tournaments.

Cuban's complaint is about NBA players risking injury in these events without the NBA owners and players getting a sizable share of the profits.

Cuban has repeatedly suggested the NBA should run its own international tournament.

"The greatest trick ever played was the IOC convincing the world that the Olympics were about patriotism and national pride instead of money," he said. "The players and owners should get together and create our own World Cup of Basketball."

Following the money almost always leads to the true motivation.

"When considering FIBA/Olympic events ask who gets paid," Cuban tweeted on Sunday. "Players=No. NBA=No FIBA/IOC=Yes. Ask the people making money [off] us what they think"

George's injury has put the spotlight back on international competition, but would it be any less devastating to the Pacers if he had suffered it while playing in an NBA World Cup?

Pacers general manager Larry Bird issued a statement saying the team did not believe ending NBA involvement in international competitions was the solution.

"We still support USA Basketball and believe in the NBA's goal of exposing our game, our teams and our players worldwide," Bird said.

A source close to USA Basketball said none of the players in camp, including major stars like Kevin Durant, James Harden, Steph Curry and Anthony Davis, are pulling out because of George's injury.

If may be difficult for some Americans who believe the NBA Finals are the real world championship, but players want to represent their nations in the Olympics and World Championships. It is a real big deal to international players.

Considering his investment, I certainly understand Cuban's stance, but it ignores history by implying that the NBA has not profited from its cooperation with FIBA and the IOC.

Contrary to popular belief, the NBA was not gung-ho when the USA Basketball initially asked it to provide players for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. The "Dream Team" became a cultural phenomenon and made the NBA a true worldwide league.

Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League and even the National Football League have been desperately trying to catch the same international lightning in a bottle that the Dream Team captured for the NBA.

Globally, basketball is second only to soccer in popularity as a team sport.

Cuban, however, did not purchase his majority stake in the Mavericks until 2000, long after the international gravy train of profits was running for the NBA.

NBA participation in the international basketball scene has also led to an ever-growing player pool of international talent.

At the time of the Dream Team, the NBA had only 21 international players. Last season, a record-tying 84 were on NBA Opening Night rosters. By the end of the season, 102 international players representing 41 nations and three territories had suited up for NBA teams.

The irony of Cuban's slant is that Dirk Nowitzki - the greatest player in Mavericks history and whom Cuban inherited when he bought the team - has said that he probably would have continued playing handball or tennis in his native Germany had he not become enamored with Scottie Pippen while watching the Dream Team as a 14-year-old.

How much money has Cuban made because of the presence of Nowitzki?

In the immediate aftermath of George's broken leg that is expected to force him to miss the 2014-15 season, it is difficult for an owner to look at what he has reaped while contemplating what a similar situation could cost him.

"At this point, I don't anticipate a major shift in the NBA's participation in international competitions," commissioner Adam Silver said. "It seems clear, however, this will be a topic at our next NBA competition committee meeting in September and our board of governors meeting in October. We will continue to evaluate the pros and cons of participating in international tournaments."

I can understand the owners wanting more say over the offseason risks their players can take, but eliminating their ability to represent their countries in international events would be a huge mistake.

Cuban is wrong about the NBA getting nothing.

Cooperation with FIBA and the IOC has given the NBA increased global-brand recognition; growth of international player talent; and expansion of global marketing and merchandise sales.

The truth is that the NBA's participation in international tournaments has been a financial boon for the league, its owners and players - a financial boon worth the unfortunate risk of injury.


Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Columns: ph.ly/Smallwood

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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