LONDON – Yao Ming’s success in the NBA, short-lived but significant, sparked widespread interest in basketball in China. Furthermore, India has placed a growing emphasis on growing the sport at all levels.
In summary, that’s about one-third of the earth’s potential number of athletes that may be involved in the sport. Basketball continues to grow and grow throughout Africa, too.
And despite all of this, FIBA and the Olympics have managed to keep the once-every-four-year men’s tournament as an inadequate representation of the sport.
Only 12 nations compete in the Olympic tournament. A number of strong teams are left out, and they shouldn’t be.
The simple solution: Expand the field to 24 nations, the same number that compete in the FIBA World Basketball Championship. Plenty of players want to compete, especially from nations that are on the cusp of joining the sport’s competitive level.
For the sport to continue to grow around the globe, getting more teams and players involved in the Olympic movement is a win-win situation, and it wouldn’t be that complicated to accommodate more teams.
The ongoing Olympic tournament is a superb test of skills and conditioning only weeks after the NBA Finals. That so many big-name stars — Kobe Bryant, Manu Ginobili, Paul Gasol, Luol Deng, among others — are representing their nations makes the tournament a big deal for those 12 nations and for fans of the sport from every corner of the globe.
Kobe is one of the most recognizable faces on the planet, and his popularity would even soar to new heights if he finished his career in Europe.
According to Yahoo Sports, that’s not a far-fetched possibility.
“It would be natural for me to go do it,” Bryant was quoted as saying by Yahoo. “It wouldn’t be a stretch at all. I grew up (in Europe).”
With five championship rings, Bryant is the most accomplished NBA player of his generation. He’s also probably the hardest-working player in the league.
There were 84 internationally born players on opening-day NBA rosters in 2010-11 from 38 countries and territories. The 2006-07 numbers: 83 players (old record) from 37 countries and territories.
See a trend here?
The NBA’s influence on the game, the league all players aim to join at some stage of their careers, has greatly risen since the Dream Team took the 1992 Barcelona Games by storm.
Which is why giving more standouts, including NBA players, a chance to compete in the Olympics would be a good thing.
Think of the impact watching these role models play has on the next generation of aspiring stars, and then ask yourself this: Why are there only 12 nations in the Olympic tournament?
It would do a whole lot of good to make the tournament more inclusive, more challenging, more competitive … and more interesting.
A 24-nation tournament sounds perfect to me.