An international brouhaha

February, 1, 2011
2/01/11
3:56
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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Mark Cuban told CBS Sports' Ken Berger the other day that he'd like to take elite summer basketball away from the Olympics.
Cuban's idea, which has fallen on deaf ears with the ever more globally minded commissioner, is to buy out the various national basketball sanctioning bodies and lure the best basketball players in the world away from the Olympics and FIBA tournaments. Instead of all the money going to the Olympic committees, Cuban said he'd tell his fellow basketball nations, "We'll split it with all of you. And we'll sell the TV rights. And we'll own it. And so then it's owned by the NBA or whoever, and GE doesn't make all the money."

General Electric Corp., of course, owned Olympic broadcast rights-holder NBC until Comcast Corp. took control of the network Friday.

"So right now, the economics are, GE plays a s***load of money for TV rights to the Olympics," Cuban said. "That money goes into the pocket of the Olympics. They give out little morsels to the different national teams for all the different sports. Basketball is one of the biggest draws, right? GE makes a s***load of money. On the other hand, we spent a lot of money on these players and have a lot invested in them and we give them to them for free.

"What I would do is say, rather than us giving up players to General Electric Corp. to make all that money on the U.S. Olympics, we'll create the NBA International Basketball Tournament and make them part of it and create a system that makes the NBA money," Cuban said. "Then it'd be all right for everybody to play." ...

"It's a business where they make billions of dollars. And you know what they call someone who gives players to those guys to make all those billions of dollars? A moron. We've been morons. I've been a moron. I mean, it makes no sense at all."

Part of me is thrilled at the idea of playing hardball, to suck the fat out of the Olympic committees. Credit Cuban with making me see the IOC as a bit like the NCAA: The people who take a very fat professional cut, while espousing amateurism. And I'm all for thinking outside the box, and being strategic in all business dealings.

I'm not bent out of shape about this idea (unlike the NBA's former vice president of international public relations, Terry Lyons).

But just to recap: We all agree Dirk Nowitzki does not belong to Mark Cuban, right? Cuban's talk of "giving" players ... that was just a bit of misspeak, right?

Dirk Nowitzki doesn't get to play on the German national team because of Cuban's generosity. This is not an artifact of some shady sports deal, nor is it because of David Stern or the IOC. Cuban acts as if a player's right to play in international competition was something in the fine print. But Nowitzki was born with that right.

Nowitzki gets to play for the German team because he is a human being, who owns his own body, and has freedom to do what he pleases.

NBA players are not paid in the offseason. By contract, NBA owners can't boss them around in the summer. If owners wanted control of their players year-round, I'm sure the players, like workers anywhere, would want the paychecks to be year-round, too.

Given that, Cuban should be so lucky as to have dominion over Nowitzki's free time.

And if Nowitzki has more than one employer, I can't see why Cuban, of all people, would be the one to profit from the valuable work Nowitzki might choose to do for the other. The German basketball federation, or the IOC, might just as well call Cuban and ask for some of the revenues the Mavericks haul in from Nowitzki.

Cuban would say the NBA helped make Nowitzki a superstar. The Olympic people would point to basketball's international explosion after the 1992 Dream Team and say right back at you, and lawyers would make a fortune sorting it all out.

For some players, playing for the national team is a more pressing dream than playing in the NBA. It's an inextricable part of them. And even if the business of the Olympics may be shady, many of them will do it, even if it's not in the short-term business interests of their NBA owner.

In other words, it's buyer beware: That player who can take you to the Finals comes with a bundle of worries, one of which may well be a tiring and injury-prone quest for Olympic gold. Those are the kinds of risks you take on when you buy a sports team.

Henry Abbott | email

TrueHoop, NBA

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