Invincibility streak ends for USA Basketball
August, 3, 2014
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com
We're talking more than two decades here.
It took a full 22 years, to be precise, before the good fortune finally ran out on the deepest program in hoops history.
From the inception of the original Dream Team that changed this sport forever in 1992, USA Basketball leaned on that unparalleled depth and its aforementioned blessings to avoid a truly catastrophic injury until Aug. 1, 2014.
The dozens of NBA pros who've worn red, white and blue managed to lose seven competitive basketball games before a single one of them suffered season-ending harm while wearing his country's colors.
Yet that run is over. The invincibility streak USAB officials desperately wished would have lasted forever has perished in horrific fashion, thanks to those chilling scenes Friday night that I hope my Paul George-loving son Alex, age 10, never has to witness.
John Stockton suffered a broken leg as a Dream Teamer in 1992. And Blake Griffin needed knee surgery after an unfortunate practice-floor tangle with John Wall in 2012. But Stockton and Griffin combined to miss all of two games in their ensuing seasons with the Jazz and Clippers after those setbacks.
Never before in its modern professional era has the USAB administration been confronted with a nightmare scenario like this one, which will sideline George for at least one full season and naturally raise the volume on a crusade Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, until now, has largely been fighting alone.
Cuban's peers have been historically hesitant to join him in publicly protesting the risks NBA teams face in making their highest-paid stars available for national-team duties that don't overtly profit the NBA. Dallas certainly isn't the only team that feels that way, but the absence of a tangible worst-fears-realized scenario to point to has largely muzzled the masses, since no one wants to be branded paranoid, unsupportive of the players or, worst of all, unpatriotic.
"But now that you have this situation," said one veteran executive, "it's going to make it a lot easier for teams to voice their objections."
It will take more than mere pushback, mind you, to formally change the system, especially after one random injury that Indiana's Larry Bird has acknowledged could have happened "anywhere, anytime." The league's agreement with FIBA, for starters, would have to be amended from its current status, which prevents NBA teams from stopping their players from representing their countries during the summer unless there's a pre-existing "reasonable medical concern," like San Antonio just did with Manu Ginobili.
It's also worth noting that the shoe companies paying many Team USA players handsomely are "big fans" of international competition, in the words of one prominent agent, as well as the routinely overlooked fact that the NBA's biggest names generally cherish every second of being part of this group. Some might have some second thoughts about participating now, after seeing what happened to the terribly unlucky George, but the overwhelming majority long to be on this stage and have to be dragged off the practice floor when they finally get there.
Or did you miss the story relayed earlier this week by my USA Today colleague Sam Amick about how Kevin Love was almost in tears when he told USAB chairman Jerry Colangelo that he had to withdraw from the FIBA Basketball World Cup squad because of his ongoing trade limbo in Minnesota?
Yet you can safely presume that you're going to be hearing and reading about this debate for the rest of the summer, with Team USA scheduled to be all over every screen you own throughout August and September. The truth is that NBA players wind up playing lots of basketball in the summertime in conditions far more dangerous than a national-team scrummage, but the crusade David Stern tried to start before leaving office to replace the NBA's stars in international play with the NBA's youth is sure to be revived.
Shortly before the 2012 London Games, Stern suggested on behalf of his owners that the NBA's future Olympic involvement should be restricted to players 23 and younger -- just like they do in men's Olympic soccer -- to start lessening the offseason demands on the game's biggest names as well as the fears of the jittery teams responsible for paying them in sickness and in health.
Kobe Bryant promptly branded Stern's proposal "stupid," backed up by a lot of sense about how much safer international play is than pickup ball, but you have to believe now that there's a line of teams that would love to challenge Kobe's viewpoint.
Starting with the poor Indiana Pacers.