The 2010 World Basketball Championships are upon us and starting August 28th, teams from all over the world will be competing for the title. So why is it when I try to strike up a conversation with someone about the tournament, I get a "What tournament?" or a "Who cares?" Look at the World Cup of Soccer. I knew people who couldn't tell you what an offside was or never really followed soccer much less played it, but they still cheered for their favourite team. Why? It was mostly a cultural affiliation kind of thing but it was highly promoted as THE tournament to watch. The second reason? They had the sponsors to back it up. This is where FIFA has done a better job than FIBA in promoting the game internationally. It was really sad to see the juxtaposition of the Canadian National Basketball Team asking us to text in donations to send them to the Worlds at the same time Haiti was asking for monetary donations to save them from disaster. Not a good situation to be in. I really hope people take notice and put all the hoopla aside and pay attention to this tournament. The Canadian National Basketball team has some great talent on its squad and if they overcome injuries and a team-affected stomach bug, they can do really well. Let's talk about the tournament with it's own share of controversies, Jordan reuniting with Kwame Brown and LeBron finally responding to Gilbert Brown without the smoke and mirrors.
The Worlds - An Uphill Battle
From August 28th to September 12th in Turkey, national basketball teams from around the world will be competing in the World Championships. Most see Spain as favoured to win and Team U.S.A doesn't seem to mind the focus is put on Spain to repeat so as to take the pressure off the Americans to produce something. Team U.S.A hasn't won at the Worlds in 16 years. Plus, no one from the gold medal team will be returning for the Americans. Pau Gasol will not playing for Spain because he thought after helping the Lakers win an NBA Championship, he needed a break. And rightfully so. The same argument James made in his comments about the Curse of Calderon could be made in any professional sport, including the NHL. Gary Bettman and other NHL officials have contemplated not allowing NHL players to compete in the Olympics. Sidney Crosby was criticized for not playing in an event right after the season ended and after winning gold for Canada in the 2010 Olympics. He was just thinking like Gasol: not wanting to injure himself and rest up for the coming season. Something I bet Brian Colangelo wishes Jose Calderon should have done.
With all he is doing to promote the NBA, even as far as India, I highly doubt NBA Commissioner David Stern would prevent the league's players from participating in the World Championships. It's not like in the NHL where they have to shut down the league for two weeks to accommodate its players competing in the Olympics. As long as the World Basketball Championships continue to be held in the summer, in the off season, it really should be the up to the player to compete in the Worlds as long as it doesn't interfere with training camp with the NBA team which employs him. Now, let's insert Jose Calderon. He was supposed to play for Spain but now out with a leg injury and expected to take 4 weeks to recover. Not a good situation for Brian Colangelo who was looking to unload Jose Calderon before training camp. I can see the attraction to compete in the Worlds, especially for players like Calderon who have not garnered the attention of other NBA stars either in the league or this tournament. The Worlds are a chance for these players to shine and get some exposure or media attention they normally wouldn't because of the A-players so-to-speak stealing the limelight. However, I would have to side with James and the Calderon Curse argument if this continues to happen. At least in Calderon's case, it proves participation in the tournament affects the team he is employed by.
Incidentally, Canada will play Lebanon to open the tournament on August 28th. Lebanon is ranked 24th and has most of its players actually playing with clubs in Lebanon. They actually have a Canadian-born player on the roster in Ali Mahmoud. Canada is ranked 19th and has players in clubs spread out over the world. This is the same thing that has plagued the Canadian National Soccer Team because when you have players in all parts of the world, it makes it harder to gel as a team and have access to practice. Plus, the Canadians have been battling injuries and a stomach bug that has gone through the entire team. Head Coach Leo Rautins has his work cut out for him when two NBA players on his squad Joel Anthony (Miami Heat) and Andy Rautins (New York Knicks) are not 100% yet due to injury or illness but he has until Friday to figure it out - that's when rosters are due. I'd like to say Canada is a sure thing but with Lebanon as a wild card they are hungry to win, too. They had a chance to qualify for the Worlds against China in the Semi's of the 2009 FIBA Asia Championship but fell to Jordan. I hope the Canadians don't go into this Saturday's contest overly confident or things might not end in their favour. Spain (ranked #3), Lithuania (6th), New Zealand (13th) and France (15th) are also in this pool (Group D).
Jordan and Kwame Together Again
I know most people are shaking their heads at this move but think about the man behind the decision. Michael Jordan the player was an intense guy who would rather have a million root canals without anesthetic than loose a basketball game. So nine years after he picked Kwame Brown number one in the NBA draft when he was with the Washington Wizards, he picks him again. Kwame Brown has been bounced around the league with little success in any particular club. He was drafted right out of high school when most thought he wasn't ready for the NBA. So when Jordan picked him then he was labelled as another superstar who can make a Head Office type of decision. So I think the decision to bring Kwame Brown into the Charlotte Bobcats family was more of a righting past wrongs kind of thing. Brown was only offered a one year contract worth $1.3 million, the minimum given to NBA veterans. So while Jordan seems to be at least attempting to redeem himself with Kwame, he also knows Kwame needs to prove himself. If he doesn't, Jordan will not be able to come out from under that cloud.
A Summer of Love and Hate
I know his jersey was burned by Cleveland fans in protest of his departure and I know he was labelled the ultimate 'douche' for the TV special 'The Decision-2010'. I still believe those who believe in these two scenarios are not seeing the big picture. In a recent interview with GQ magazine, LeBron James said he isn't sure Cleveland Cavs owner Dan Gilbert ever cared about him: "My mother always told me: you will see the light of people when they hit adversity. You'll get a good sense of their character". Considering the nastiness of his reaction to LeBron leaving to Miami, some might agree with LeBron's statement. In the same GQ article, he responded to comments made about 'The Decision-2010" which questioned his motivations. When LeBron James found out the $2.5 million dollars made from the tv special would be given to Boys and Girls Clubs, he felt it was a "no brainer". If you really, truly support someone without the facade of a happy face, you will have the ability to take a step back and see a particular decision was made from a good place and not meant to offend. Sure be upset, but don't lie and say you supported someone from the beginning because really, you only supported them when they fit into your ideal. I really hope when the season starts, we can all move on from this.
"Basketball Beyond the Floor"
Remember to join me here on the DNB this Thursday when we will be discussing Tall Tales by Terry Pluto. Until then, happy reading.