There’s no shame in NBA stars skipping the Olympics – SB Nation

Several of the NBA’s best American-born players elected to skip the 2016 Olympics in Brazil due to various reasons (the need for rest, injury recovery and the impending birth of their children among them). Naturally, some brave soul with a byline is willing to shame those stars for daring not to don the stars and stripes in Rio. And that brave soul is Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle.

Let’s do this. Excerpts of Smith’s piece in block quotes, my reaction to follow.

The nation tuning in, a country coming alive and the summer of 2016 defined by draping a gold medal across your neck in Rio de Janeiro, instead of another boring offseason dedicated to free-agency rumors and daily tweets.

Let’s stop right there: The nation does not tune in for Olympic basketball. The 2012 gold medal game was the top Olympic basketball broadcast ever in the United States. That game drew 12.5 million viewers, or roughly the same number as Cavaliers-Warriors on Christmas Day this past season. In 2008, the famous Redeem Team played the gold medal game in Beijing in the wee hours of the morning in the United States. It drew a respectable 6 million viewers … or about the same number as watched this year’s All-Star Game.

Non-gold Team USA in the Olympics games draw similar to average Sunday afternoon regular season games on ABC. And that “boring offseason” comment? LeBron’s maligned decision drew 13 million viewers, or more than the most highly rated Team USA Olympic basketball game ever.

But Cleveland’s King won’t be there. Neither will the Rockets’ Weird Beard, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and a ridiculously self-absorbed collection of the NBA’s finest. LeBron James gets a pass. He did what’s never been done. He returned decades of lost belief to the misnamed mistake by the lake. He can now do pretty much whatever the heck he wants until training camp. The rest of the Association’s me-first, brand-second, country-third superstars could use a week-long reminder course in why they’re actually playing basketball for a living.

Nice that LeBron James, who has played 47,000 NBA minutes in 13 years and has already won two Olympic gold medals plus an Olympic bronze, gets a pass from our heroic takemaster. James Harden won Olympic gold in 2012 and FIBA gold in 2014. Curry won FIBA gold in 2014 and just finished playing on a sprained MCL. Westbrook won gold in 2010 and 2012. Chris Paul has two Olympic gold medals and, oh yeah, had season-ending hand surgery two months ago. What a self-centered bunch, eh?

But pray tell why are they actually playing basketball for a living, brave soul? (He doesn’t actually answer this.)

[T]his desperately pieced-together roster is far from the greatest version of the current generation. Barcelona ’92 would crack jokes in the face of Rio ’16. And the underlying statement made by all those too busy to attend is an insulting and disappointing one for the NBA.

It’s about us, not you.

We only play when we want to – and when we get paid like kings.

The idea that any of these players owe anything to USA Basketball or to the hardcore basketball fans that will tune in whether Steph Curry or Kyrie Irving starts at point guard is absurd. It is a privilege to wear your nation’s jersey in the Olympics. That doesn’t make participating compulsory, just as the fastest sprinters in the world have no duty to wrap themselves in a flag every four years if it doesn’t fit their interests.

And it’s not like most of these stars haven’t given up their summers for Team USA before. I mean …

Curry, Westbrook, etc. are fooling themselves if they think they’re too tired or spread thin to wear gold.

There’s an interesting discussion to be had about Curry’s lack of Olympic gold and how that affects his burgeoning legacy; that discussion isn’t found in or sparked by Smith’s pithy sentence. Regardless, both guys played in 2010, plus Westbrook played in 2012 and Curry played in 2014. We should probably let them decide if they’re too tired.

Harden should have said yes. His public image is more damaged than he knows and Rio would have only helped his comeback campaign.

Harden gave up two of his past four summers to play for Team USA. Lord knows those two gold medals on his mantle haven’t earned him any benefit of the doubt. Why would another?

Durant can turn into a summer-time hero by being a golden No. 1 in Rio. Anthony, who’s never won anything in the NBA, can actually come out looking OK as a by-default spokesman for the USA.

No, brother: Carmelo F. Anthony is on track to become the most decorated Team USA player ever with his third gold medal in his fourth Olympic Games. You talk about the Olympics helping a player’s public image and spend the one sentence dedicated to Melo denigrating his accomplishments. Isn’t that something?

Take it away, Bearded One.


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