Commentary: Is International Basketball Worth The Risk?

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basketballIf you were lucky, and rich, enough to own an NBA team, would you want your star players to compete in international competition? NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has indicated his league will consider that question.

All of this discussion, and there has been a lot already, comes, of course, in the aftermath of the Paul George injury Friday night in the Team USA scrimmage in Las Vegas as the squad prepared for the World Cup of basketball.

George’s injury was particularly gruesome. After jumping to try to block a lay-up, his right foot slid under the basket standard, and his lower right leg snapped, a compound fracture. He has already had surgery, and he will probably miss all of the next NBA season.

Obviously, the primary concern is for George’s future health, but pro sports is nothing if not pragmatic. George is the Indiana Pacers best player, and the team recently signed him to a $92 million contract. In retrospect, I am sure Indiana would have preferred George not have been competing with Team USA.

Some owners, the Dallas Mavericks Mark Cuban for one, have long been skeptical about players competing outside of the NBA. Other NBA executives, like Pacers President Larry Bird, point out the George injury could have happened anywhere, at anytime.

Plus, there is definitely a positive side to the NBA “lending” it’s players to international basketball. Its players have benefited, as have NBA teams and the game, in general. Players improve (DeMarcus Cousins of the Kings is an example), bettering their NBA teams at the same time, and it is easy to understand how the popularity of international basketball competition like the Olympics, has improved the interest and quality of the game in much of the world.

And to Bird’s point, if NBA players are denied the right to play for Team USA because of the possibility of injury, should they also be denied playing in charity exhibitions and pick-up games at the gyms where they work out in the off-season?

As Bird noted, injuries can happen anywhere. Still, the Pacers are losing their best player, throwing their entire season into question, and tens of millions of dollars because of what happened Friday night. I think NBA team owners have to be concerned.

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