Age limit unlikely for 2016 Games

Updated: August 11, 2012, 4:40 PM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

LONDON -- NBA commissioner David Stern's push to see an age limit of 23 for the men's Olympic basketball tournament is losing steam.

At least when it comes to the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.

FIBA chief Patrick Baumann, secretary general of the sport's international governing body, said Saturday: "My feeling is that we will not be proposing a 23 age limit for the 2016 Olympic Games."

"The NBA has come up with the idea to go with under 23 and at the same time to promote younger athletes," Baumann said. "And also to make a (distinction) between the (new) World Cup and the Olympic Games (by making only the World Cup open to NBA players of all ages).

"From FIBA's perspective, we understand the perspective from USA Basketball and the NBA," Baumann continued. "I'm not sure (we) necessarily have the same idea, but we understand the owners' concerns."

Stern, attending the Olympics in London, could not be immediately reached for comment.

Amid year-long celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the original Dream Team that captivated the world and changed international basketball forever at the Summer Games in Barcelona, Stern announced at the NBA Finals that the league needed to "step back and take stock of where we're going" in terms of sending its best and, often, most highly paid players to the Olympics.

Bryant It's a stupid idea. It should be a (player's) choice. ... Basically, it's just a dumb idea and we (discuss) it that way. ... We just discuss it like that (and) kind of voice our opinions through you (media) guys.

-- Kobe Bryant on a proposed
Olympic age limit

The change Stern favors is switching to a system similar to that used in men's Olympic soccer -- which is a 23-and-under competition with three overage players allowed per country -- while allowing all NBA players to remain eligible for the quadrennial FIBA World Championship. That competition will be renamed the World Cup of Basketball in 2014.

The driving force behind Stern's proposal is believed to be a push from NBA owners, most notably the Dallas Mavericks' Mark Cuban, to make the NBA's best players available only for the FIBA-controlled World Cup, with the idea that NBA teams would finally be positioned to benefit financially from allowing their stars to participate. At present, NBA teams get no revenue from the Olympic basketball tournament.

But the concept has been met with widespread derision from players from a variety of countries at London 2012, with no more vocal critic than Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers.

"It's a stupid idea," Bryant said last month in Manchester when Team USA landed on British soil to begin their Olympic preparations. "It should be a (player's) choice."

Asked at the time how much he and his Team USA teammates have talked about Stern's proposal since getting together in Vegas on July 5, Bryant said: "Our discussion is this: Basically, it's just a dumb idea and we (discuss) it that way. ... We just discuss it like that (and) kind of voice our opinions through you (media) guys."

There were fears, when Stern initially floated the idea at the Finals, that these Olympics would thus be the last to feature the NBA's biggest names. But SI.com's Ian Thomsen reported earlier this week that passage of a rule change through a vote of the 200-plus member nations of FIBA in time to change the rules before the 2016 Summer Games in Brazil was "unlikely," while also noting that the inevitable involvement of the International Olympic Committee would also potentially complicate the process.

On Saturday, expounding on his reticence, Baumann said: "All of us -- the NBA, the IOC, FIBA -- we have all earned a lot, not just financially, from being in the Olympics, and particularly since 1992 with where we were and where we are now. I'm not sure we're done with ... the exposure basketball has got here (at the Olympics)."

"It would be premature right now," Baumann added, "to make any changes in terms of the quality of basketball at the Olympic Games."

Sources say that the NBA, though, has no intention of backing off its desire to get the age eligibility rules changed in hopes of raising the profile of basketball's forthcoming World Cup and thus enhancing the chances that NBA teams will eventually reap the financial benefits of such drastic changes to the landscape.

"They will resist," said one source on the NBA side said of some FIBA members, "but this will eventually happen."

It's believed that one of the main issues that FIBA officials have with the plan is that an Olympics restricted to players 23 and under -- with perhaps three overage exceptions as seen in Olympic soccer -- would presumably make the Americans even harder to beat than they already are, given the widespread belief overseas that American players develop faster.

If Team USA had to go the 23-and-under route, it could start building its squad with current Team USA 12th man Anthony Davis, selected No. 1 overall out of Kentucky in the June draft, and Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving. USAB chairman Jerry Colangelo said Saturday that he will be preparing multiple rosters for any eventuality.

Other pronouncements of interest Saturday from Baumann:

•  FIBA hopes to move the new World Cup of Basketball, formerly known as the World Championships, out of the same four-year cycle that mirrors soccer's World Cup. So after the inaugural World Cup of basketball in Spain 2014, Baumann says he hopes that the next edition of the tournament takes place in 2019 as opposed to 2018 and serves as the main qualifier for the 2020 Olympics.

•  Baumann says FIBA will push for the 2016 Olympic field to be expanded from 12 teams to 16 along with a shortening of the overall tournament length from 18-19 days to 14-15.

•  Although he said he's unsure whether it will happen in time for the 2016 Games in Brazil, Baumann admits that "we have come to a conclusion that (FIBA's shorter 3-point line) will move back at some point to the NBA distance."

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

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