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NBA owners must protect their assets
When Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin went down with a torn meniscus in his left knee at Olympic training camp in Las Vegas this week, somewhere in Dallas, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban probably couldn’t help but mutter a quiet “I told you so” — even if only to himself.
Cuban’s presumed rancor, of course, wouldn’t be intended for Griffin, who, through no fault of his own, will be forced to miss this summer’s Olympics as a result of the untimely injury. Instead, Cuban’s venom would be aimed directly at the NBA for allowing the injury to happen in the first place. Earlier this year, Cuban slammed the league for allowing its players to participate in the Olympics free of charge, calling it “the worst decision the NBA makes.”
“If you look up 'stupid' in the dictionary, you see a picture of the USA Dream Team playing for free for corporate America so the US Olympic Committee can make millions of dollars,” Cuban told FOXSports.com's Greg Couch at the time. “If you come up with something that you own, that you give it to me for free so I can make billions of dollars, I want it.”
Cuban’s argument, as an owner, is simple: These players are essentially assets, and they’re putting their livelihoods — and, by virtue, the owners’ livelihoods — on the line to play for Team USA. Meanwhile, USA Basketball has seemingly everything to gain and nothing to lose from their participation.
If a player can’t play in the Olympics, there’s always going to be another All-Star ready to replace him on behalf of the country and expand his global brand. But there’s not always someone there to take the injured player’s spot on the team that actually pays for his services. Donald Sterling can’t just call up Anthony Davis and have him fill in for the Clips while Griffin is out.
Cuban is no stranger to conflict, and his position — one that is actually shared at least in part by NBA commissioner David Stern, who has suggested limiting NBA involvement in the Olympics to players age 23 and younger — isn’t necessarily a popular one. Some even view it as downright unpatriotic.
These players grew up in the Dream Team era and hoped one day to play for their country, as well. It’s a matter of pride and responsibility and devotion to something greater, and many see it as fulfilling a duty as much as anything.
Limit this year’s roster to those players 23 and younger, and you’re taking that opportunity away from all but five players — Davis, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kevin Love. But the stances of businessmen like Cuban, who finance these teams and essentially allow the NBA to exist and thrive as it does, are also not without merit.
Teams pay players exorbitant amounts — Griffin actually signed a five-year, $95 million extension the day before his injury — to be the best in the world at what they do. Every time they step on the court for their country, they’re putting their team’s investment at risk with no insurance in the event that something goes awry.
The NBA, in allowing these players to play, is essentially tightrope walking without a net, which isn’t recommended for anyone with his own best interests at stake. And these owners didn’t become owners by being naive. They’re looking out for No. 1, at all costs.
Don’t get me wrong. Freak injuries happen, and sometimes there’s nothing that owners can do to stop them. Guys are going to slip on the kitchen floor or fall down the stairs or hurt themselves playing with their kids in the yard. That’s life. But when their players can exercise better judgment, they should.
In this particular case, it seems the NBA can breathe a sigh of relief. Griffin, who already has missed an entire season because of a stress fracture in that same left knee, should be back at 100 percent in time for Clippers training camp this fall.
Additionally, when reached Friday, a USA Basketball spokesman was quick to point out that the soreness in Griffin's left knee dated back to the Clippers’ playoff series against San Antonio.
“Blake worked extremely hard in our training camp, and certainly would have been a valuable contributor,” USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said in a statement. “This is another unfortunate injury, but we have to continue to move on.”
The spokesman also noted that in 20 years of international competition, no NBA player has ever been seriously hurt — but what happens when someone isn’t so fortunate?
What happens when a guy gets hurt while playing for his country and has to miss an NBA season as a result? What happens if that injury impacts his career? Just because it hasn’t happened doesn’t mean it won’t.
“They get hurt, you both get hurt, player and team,” Cuban told FOXSports.com in that April interview. “And players do get hurt. And then what? Just stupid. They should play high school players. Give them experience.”
Perhaps Cuban is overstating a bit by suggesting that the Olympic pool should be derived from prep stars, but the point he makes is still sound. The risk NBA teams take isn’t a worthwhile one when it comes to their players participating in international play.
The answer might come in the form of a partnership between the NBA and FIBA, resulting in a World Cup of Basketball.
This venture, should it ever materialize, wouldn’t have the prestige of the Olympics, or perhaps even the FIBA World Championship. But it would allow NBA teams and owners to benefit financially from the use of their players, which seems like a fair enough return for putting their own investment at risk.
It may not be the most patriotic answer to the problems at hand, and some may have difficulty sympathizing with the financial hardships of 1 percenters like Cuban. But in the end, rich or poor, we all need to cover our assets.
Follow Sam Gardner on Twitter: @sam_gardner
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