What’s Up with Rajon Rondo and Team USA?

25 08 2010

If you haven’t heard, Rajon Rondo pulled out of consideration to make Team USA’s roster for the World Championships, thereby making the final cut a moot point for Mike Krzyzyzyzewski and Jerry Colangelo. After not seeing any action during Sunday’s exhibition victory over Spain, Rondo decided to take himself out of the running and return home, supposedly to tend to family issues.

It was yet another bizarre episode in what’s become an interesting relationship between Rondo and Team USA. Earlier this year, he’d said he wasn’t interested in representing his country this summer, but that situation changed after discussions with Colangelo, and Rondo seemed committed to trying his best to make the team and star in Turkey. Now, though, he’s chosen to avoid the notoriety of being cut from the team and just go on his merry way.

It wasn’t supposed to work out this way for Rondo, who proved himself to be one of the league’s rising stars this postseason as the Celtics’ best player on their run to the Finals. For him to leave Team USA, or even to be on the bubble in the first place, is something of a black mark on his career progression. It’s not entirely surprising given that the international game doesn’t exactly conform to his strengths, but it’s still goofy that he would have to quit the team altogether.

Then again, maybe it makes perfect sense for a star on the rise to avoid the embarrassment. Over the past month, it’s become clear that Coach K prefers Derrick Rose, Chauncey Billups, and possibly even Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry as the main guards for this team. In the postseason, Rondo rose to a step above those players, putting himself just below Chris Paul and Deron Williams as the best point guards in the league. If he were to maintain that status heading into next season, he couldn’t be beaten out by that lesser group on an international stage, even if international ball is very different from the NBA game.

Perhaps this shows a lack of integrity or acts as proof that Rondo is too concerned with his image. But it also shows how much American stars stand to lose when they enter international competition. Winning is assumed, and losing carries a stain. Plus, when you don’t sit at the top of the Team USA hierarchy, you can sometimes seem like less of a star than the NBA has already proven you to be.

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FIBA World Championships Could Become FIBA World Cup

23 08 2010

The FIBA World Championships are set to start soon, and I honestly couldn’t care less. Call me a hater, or a pompous American, or just a plain-old jerk, but I like to see the best players play, and there are enough international stars out of competition that the whole thing seems more like a JV tournament than an accurate test of basketball supremacy.

FIBA realizes that there are people like me, though, and they have a plan to make it more attractive: steal FIFA’s “World Cup” name and hope everyone takes it more seriously. From Sports Business Journal (via PBT):

The International Basketball Federation (FIBA) has been considering switching the name for more than a year, with possibilities such as the FIBA World Cup, the Basketball World Cup or the World Cup of Basketball being discussed. The federation’s board is expected to vote on a name change in 2011.

“It’s a work in progress, and it seems like a likely outcome for the 2014 championship,” said FIBA Secretary General Patrick Baumann. “It’s not yet a decision, but people are getting more and more friendly with the idea, and that helps.”

Great. Look forward to lots of dives, overtime free-throw contests to decide the winner, and lots of commentary about how the Angolan team is tactically naive.

Enough joking. In a vacuum, this would be a pretty stellar idea, with basketball taking over the world sport calendar for a few weeks. The Olympics are currently the international basketball competition of note, but the sport rarely becomes the big story of the fortnight, what with the swimmers, gymnasts, and other athletes the world only cares about once every four years. A FIBA World Cup wouldn’t be substantively different from the World Championships, but a rebranded event could help make it a bigger deal and draw more NBA stars to the competition.

The problem with this plan is that the Olympics are in fact recognized as the top international competition, and it takes a long time to break that association. For developing basketball nations, that should be a relatively easy sell. But a tournament can’t become truly huge unless it has the best players in the world, and most of those players just happen to be American. Our stars just don’t feel the need to play in these tournaments biannually, so they’ll need some incentive to do so.

Maybe increased pay would do it. Whatever the case, though, a rebranded World Championships won’t become huge unless the Americans play. Unlike in the case of soccer, there just aren’t enough international stars to go around.