GRAPHIC BY DENISE THOUNG
By JACOB RAMOS
With the first loss of an official game in thirteen years, Team USA Men’s Basketball shocked the hoops community, foreshadowing a dark period in the illustrious Team USA history.
Only a half decade ago, Team USA was overflowing with talent: all-stars such as Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving and James Harden headlined the team. Rounding out the group was coach Mike Krzyzewski, who has been regarded as one of the greatest coaches to ever grace the hardwood’s sideline.
That year, the team went undefeated with ease in Fédération Internationale de Basketball (FIBA) World Cup led by Brooklyn Nets star point guard and FIBA 2014 tournament most valuable player (MVP), Kyrie Irving.
So, with a bright future filled with a seemingly endless amount of big names, young and old, how could anything go wrong for Team USA?
A lot, as proven recently by the turmoil that faced the team, consisting significantly of career-shattering injuries which have proven to outdo even our best players’ feelings.
As the basketball fans of the world, hungover as the offseason hits it’s dog days, turn to Team USA for a glimpse of the NBA season to come, they are curtly greeted with a sparse supply of stars to cheer for.
Headlined by Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker and Donovan Mitchell, our national basketball team is historically thin. As the roster was finalized, only one player, Kemba Walker, has made an all-star appearance, in contrast to previous national teams. Such that of 2014 where players like Stephen Curry, Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving and James Harden a lineup that embarrases the current amount of all stars on the FIBA team today.
Even with professional players like Walker and Tatum, the under-talented group still managed to lose a scrimmage against a team of minor Gatorade League players. A loss of this nature, no matter how inherently miniscule must set off an alarm within fans, players, and coaches of Team USA.
Needless to say, it is unacceptable for such losses to be taken by the U.S., which houses arguably the greatest basketball league in existence, let alone losses to literal lesser versions of themselves. The team must consistently perform at a world class level, as it is unfair to basketball fans and patriots alike that we are treated to the JV team of the USA when we all want and deserve the varsity.
For the future, the NBA and FIBA must work out some kind of an agreement which would allow for the best players in the world to feel the patriotic pride that would make them feel obligated to represent their country on one of basketball’s biggest stages.
Perhaps the solution is buried in a potential partnership within the two internationally famed organizations. If somehow FIBA and the NBA could work out some sort of a monetary agreement that benefits both operations and all players associated with each, it could potentially entice more players to play.
An enhanced vitalization in FIBA must be expressed to players first of all.
Unfortunately, in many NBA players’ minds, FIBA is seen as the little brother to the big stage. This big stage of course, is The Olympics. Even with the Olympic team tending to be much more filled with superstars, even there the talent level there seems to be diminishing. Team USA 2016 had perhaps the weakest talent level in 12 years, not even boasting a full roster of NBA all stars, with average forward Harrison Barnes rounding out the squad.
FIBA is not just some tuneup international tournament that countries regularly send their essential junior-varsity teams to, it is widely viewed as the largest international basketball tournament in the world, with the exception of The Olympics. But what proves to be even more vital is that FIBA serves as the main qualifier for Olympic participation.
There is no overstatement for the importance of a strong FIBA team, whether some, none, or all of the athletes make up the Olympic team in two years.
Our nation’s athletes must realize that a Team USA loss is a striking reality and must be addressed seriously from within.
A call to action must be made to our top players for our nation to remain in the international spotlight as the greatest basketball country in the world. Our players must understand that international basketball is bigger than basketball itself. Although not thought of commonly, a strong athletic team can open up more entryways for strong international affairs, among other benefits.
It is understandable that one may not want to go through with extra competitive basketball year round, especially if you play 82+ games a year in the most grueling, competitive league in the world. Patriotism simply is not enough at times for an athlete to take his body off rest and into the very rough trenches of the hardwood for an extra three months. The process may result in personal injury, or a wearing down of the love for the sport that makes you millions and puts food on the table. Not all players will feel a pride so strong to override these portions of human life that all of us, not just professional basketball players, desire.
But to those who do, there is a special locker in international basketball heaven waiting for you.