Should America’s Best Basketball Players Participate in the World Cup?

     Who do you think of when asked who the top players in the NBA are?  LeBron James?  Kevin Durant?  How about Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, or Kevin Love?  You know all these people.  They are some of the best players in the world, and play on basketball’s biggest stage, the NBA.  Here’s two things they all have in common.  Firstly, they are all from the U.S., and secondly, none of them will be representing team USA in the FIBA World Cup, which begins on August 30th.
     It seems like most top players are worried about the risk of injury in playing internationally during the offseason.  While their fears seem to be a little more substantiated by the recent freak injury to Paul George, is this really a valid reason for not participating in competitions such as the Olympics and FIBA World Cup?
     I say no.  Why has basketball been growing so rapidly into a global game?  Why have numerous leagues sprung up around the world?  How is it that 21 of the 60 players drafted in the 2014 NBA Draft came from foreign countries, including three of the top five picks?  All of this has resulted from the top players becoming known on a global scale.
     Much of this has to be attributed to the 1992 Dream Team that took gold at the Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.  The team was full with the best players in the world, and many of the greatest of all time.  Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson led a team where most players ended up as Hall of Famers.  I wasn’t alive to see them in 1992, but based on video I’ve seen, these guys were incredible to witness.  Described as the greatest sports team ever assembled and the most dominant team ever, the team romped through the Olympics, winning each game by an average of 44 points,  and having a ton of fun along the way.  Most importantly, the world took notice.
     Mesmerized by the men they saw, other countries began seriously playing basketball and forming great teams of their own, while none has ever become near as great as that team that started it all.  This had led to what we have now, a global game that’s only becoming more popular by the year.  However, now most top players aren’t playing internationally, disappointing the high expectations set by the Dream Team, who could most likely dominate the current U.S. national team.
       I find this to be a big issue.  I believe that to continue the international spread of the game, and to increase appeal to the NBA in other countries, the best players need to be playing in the World Cup.  Maybe it isn’t the biggest event in the United States (for reasons I’m still trying to figure out), but for most countries in the world, it is the biggest basketball event.  These top players need to take it seriously.
     I doubt there has ever been a soccer player who has decline an opportunity to play in the FIFA World Cup.  It is an honor, and an ability to take pride in your country and make a name for yourself in the biggest global sporting event besides the Olympics.  It baffles me how some American players don’t see it this way.  All the healthy top foreign players are participating.
     I understand also that one of the main goals of the U.S. team is to train young players and give them much needed experience.  This is great for these players, but hurts the global view of the game of basketball.  Imagine a modern day Dream Team, with a starting five that looks like this.  Chris Paul, Paul George, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Dwight Howard.  Wouldn’t that be a sight to see?  It would be similar to an NBA all-star team where the players actually tried.  This would bring more attention to the FIBA World Cup in the U.S., as well as globally.  This needs to happen.
     It’s not like the World Cup is every year, either.  There won’t be another one until 2019, and that’s five years away (it’s usually four but FIBA didn’t want to overlap with FIFA).  For many of these top players, this would be the last World Cup they could participate in before being surpassed by the up and coming superstars of the future.
     Most NBA players are playing basketball in the offseason anyway.  Why not support your country while doing it?  That’s a change I want to see come 2019.
     Thanks for reading,

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