Apologies from BallinEurope for not weighing in on this … thing until this morning, but after rereading it for the nth time, BiE felt the rant building but wanted to avoid posting an overly emotional response. Perhaps a day and a good night’s rest would temper my viewpoint; maybe upon waking this morning, we’d all discover after logging in to FIBA.com that the Eurobasket manipulation had all been a smokescreen for the hiring of Mike D’Antoni. Or something.
Nope. There it is, still mocking those who have loved the Eurobasket tournament (not to mention the FIBA Americas tourney, the FIBA South American Championship, the FIBA Asia Championship, etc.): “FIBA announced at its Central Board meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, that it will go ahead and implement a new format and calendar of competition beginning in 2017…”
BallinEurope spent much of the day yesterday thinking about a discussion in May 2010. It seems like forever ago now: Since that Euroleague Final Four, international basketball has seen the NBA player lockout, the notable absence of some top names from Eurobasket 2011 due to insurance issues, the 2012 Olympic Games, and the announcement of a timetable for David Stern’s retirement.
Before all that, BiE was podcasting with Euroleague Adventures and Frankie Sachs of Euroleague.net in Paris. ELA’s Nick Gibson brought up the topic of FIBA, calling them out for one reason or another. At that time, BiE defended the international organization with a point that BiE still believes: That the business of FIBA is to foster the game’s development from the grassroots levels in all nations; the tournaments make a great show but ultimately are not FIBA’s raison d’etre.
Today? BallinEurope is just about come to a 180º change in viewpoint on the FIBA-is-good-guy stance. Cracks appeared in the façade between the player lockout and the Eurobasket 2011 tournament: Thanks to the temporary suspension of certain agreements between the NBA and FIBA temporarily suspended in the wake of the player lockout in America, national squads were forced to cover insurance costs on NBA players. While Team France and Team Russia got their players’ issues sorted in due time, the extra insurance proved a prohibitively expensive proposition for some European countries in particular.
BiE realizes that a contract is a contract, but finds it hard to believe that FIBA couldn’t have marshaled some resources and/or cash to support mid-level European sides with potential international marquee names. FIBA’s disturbing inaction during this crisis within a crisis seemed to be telegraphing the message that, yes, the desires of a few dozen American (and one Russian) businessman, i.e. NBA franchise owners, and a handful of private insurance agents do in fact outweigh the needs of the rest of the basketball world.
Hell, in yesterday’s announcement FIBA secretary general Patrick Baumann proclaimed that “National teams are the locomotive of basketball in each country. We need to protect and enhance their role.” He presumably meant going forward, because where was such protection in 2011?
Of course Baumann chased this remark with “At the same time, clubs invest daily into our sport and their investment also needs respect and protection.” In newspeak terms, “clubs” here surely means “NBA clubs and possibly three or four of the larger European clubs.” As NBA teams often deny players the right to play national team ball in the offseason or said players decline due to concerns about the wear-and-tear of the professional season, the FIBA decision on international tournaments essentially endorses the supremacy of NBA ball over the national teams.
In adopting a soccer-like format, the organization announced that “The qualification period for the  FIBA Basketball World Cup will be held over the course of two years and consist of six windows which will be in November (2017), February, June, September, November (2018) and February (2019).” In addition, “The qualification for the 2020 Olympics will be through the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup and four Olympic Qualifying Tournaments to be held in four zones.”
The schedule through 2020 would look like this:
2013: Eurobasket Slovenia
2014: World Cup in Spain
2015: Eurobasket Ukraine
2016: Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero
2017: Eurobasket TBD
2017-18: World Cup qualifiers
2019: FIBA World Cup
2019-20: Olympic qualifiers
2020: Olympic Games in Istanbul, Madrid or Tokyo
The key date in there is 2017 – because that’s when the Eurobasket tournament becomes irrelevant. Qualifiers for next prestige tournament, the 2019 FIBA World Cup a.k.a. David Stern’s baby (and make no mistake about it; it’s definitely at least an adoptee of El Jefe), only begin in November of that year. The Eurobasket and other FIBA-backed continental tournaments have suddenly become dead ends: Now what NBA player will want to participate in that? What top-drawer Euroleague player, for that matter?
One interesting date on the timeline and a bonus for certain interests (not to mention The Stern Legacy, at least in the short-term view) is 2014. Stern has long endorsed increasing the importance of the World Cup tournament and if you have to ask why, well, you haven’t been paying attention, as the excellent Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports succinctly headlined in June, “NBA hoping to generate more revenue with World Cup of Basketball proposal.”
BiE realizes that business is business, but is it really necessary for the NBA to attempt to lay waste to the hopes of fledgling national basketball programs – those same programs whose talent and fans they hope to poach for ticket sales, TV packages and paraphernalia?
Stern will have been out of the NBA commissioner’s seat for six months when the ’14 World Cup tips off, but given the man’s success, it’s impossible to believe that Adam Silver won’t be pushing The Stern Agenda for long into his own tenure. Unfortunately, said agenda reportedly has even more insidious plans for international basketball.
In Wojnarowski’s piece, the issue of another seeming Stern-led pet project, “the league’s motivation for pushing to enter an under-23 team for future Olympics” was advanced; the talk on this subject during and following the last Games indicates that this is more than musing: Reducing the importance of Olympic freaking basketball is clearly on the radar of NBA power players who “would be a lot more comfortable letting star players play internationally if they’re sharing in the revenue” – something that just can’t happen in The Olympics.
Meanwhile, the 2014 World Cup could be the most star-studded international basketball tournament ever. With the Eurobasket already tainted by its future status of “irrelevant” and Team USA apparently destined to be sending a younger, more in-development side to the ’16 Olympic Games, the ’14 Cup will be the last top-level international tournament until 2019 – at which time we’ll probably be watching the FIBA/NBA Turkish Airlines Google Basketball World Cup.
No matter: Fans will be glued to the tube, pundits will apply the superlatives, FIBA folks will proclaim a great future for the FIBANBATAG World Cup and Silver will be basking in the glow. Basketball aficionados can then “look forward” to surely disenheartened play at Eurobasket 2015 and a distinctly non-Dream Team including Olympics one year later.
Though FIBA spun the positive reaction to the changes from luminaries such as Vincent Collet and Ingo Weiss, the surely more widely-felt dissension was verbalized by Lithuanian Basketball Federation secretary general Mindaugaus Balciunas in a forthright and surprisingly calm response.
Lithuania has historically had problems fielding its best team since after Barcelona ’92 due mostly to NBA constraints and Balciunas therefore represents one of the programs with the most to lose under the new international tournament framework. Alleging that FIBA heads did not consult with any related stakeholders (e.g. FIBA Europe, Euroleague, ULEB) in drawing up the plans, Balciunas maintains that “It can be said that the reform was done with closed eyes. FIBA hired former FIFA and UEFA experts – that’s why the football model is blindly copied. I’m not sure if this path has a future…”
Nicely summarized, but BiE would respectfully disagree on one point: The eyes of the FIBA brain trust are wide open, focused on the prize. And apparently they’ve decided that prize is approbation from the NBA. FIBA is apparently now willing to hawk neutralized, inferior products with its own brand name slapped all over them, proving that their sellout price is pretty low, indeed.