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.