Wednesday, September 07, 2011

EuroBasket/FIBA/IOC Musings & Rantings

Today, Jay Aych has reset the EuroBasket 2011 field, offering his sharp analysis of second round. Meanwhile, I spent my EuroBasket day off organizing and composing my thoughts on the following topics:

1. The Olympics are more important than the FIBA World Championships
2. 24 teams at EuroBasket, but only 12 at the Olympics?
3. Why so many games? Why 11 games in 19 days? Why the pre-Olympic qualifying tournament?
4. Why overlap Euro & Americas (& Oceania)?
5. I wish I knew how to quit you, trapezoid lane!
6. Frustrated by the draws, but excited for the basketball ahead

1. The Olympics are more important than the FIBA World Championships
In the U.S., we often hear that, around the world, the FIBA World Championships are widely considered to be a more important basketball competition than the Olympics. Increasingly, I don't buy this, at all.

Last year, the Gus Johnson of FIBA basketball, Liam Canny (a spirited broadcaster who was heard calling the action in Group A in Lithuania), made an appearance on ESPN.com's Daily Dime Live, and said this:
    I want to give the DDL fans a window into the minds of the players that I gathered in a conversation with one of the technical directors of one of the national teams in the tourney.

    I asked why so many NBA players (Parker, Noah, Gasol...) had withdrawn from [the 2010 FIBA World Championships]. The technical director told me that this is the order of preference for players from European teams:
    1. Olympic games
    2. EuroBasket in the year in which Olympic berths are won
    3. World Championships
    4. EuroBasket tourneys in non-Olympic qualifying years
And now, in 2011, the proof is in the participation. Several of basketball's best international players are back in action in this Olympic qualifying year, after skipping the 2010 World Championships.

Dirk Nowitzki considers Germany's qualification for the 2008 Olympics one of the highlights of his career (he has said he cried like a baby after they qualified), and recently said "I've been to the Olympics and it was the best experience of my life." Dirk is back playing with Germany for the first time since 2008.

When Manu Ginobili announced his decision to skip the World Championships in 2010, he said it was because "I am just prioritizing London 2012 to Turkey 2010." At that time, he also said, "[M]y two previous experiences on the Olympics were the best thing that ever happened to me as an athlete, including the NBA rings, European championships and everything I lived on my almost 15 years of career." Manu is back playing with Argentina for the first time since 2008.

Tony Parker, who recently called playing in the Olympics "a childhood dream," is back for France after skipping the World Championships to rest, as is Pau Gasol for Spain. Andrei Kirilenko helped Russia qualify for the 2008 Olympics by leading them to a surprise 2007 EuroBasket gold medal; he's back with the national team for the first time since Beijing.

In my mind, there is no doubt: the Olympics are the most prestigious international basketball competition in the world, more important than the World Championships.

I do believe the Worlds were once more important, but I think things have changed. As with most things regarding the evolutions and revolutions of international basketball of the past generation, I believe this change stems back to the Dream Team at the 1992 Olympics. The Dream Team is often cited as an inspiration and touchstone for international players. Their stage was the Olympics, and that's where the best players now most want to be.

2. 24 teams at EuroBasket, but only 12 at the Olympics?
The European soccer championships, aka the Euro, are one of the most popular sporting events on the planet. And, as much as I think basketball is the greatest sport on the planet, I'm under no illusion that hoops are remotely as popular as soccer on the Continent.

Yet, Euro 2012 will have a field of 16 nations and EuroBasket 2011 has a field of 24 nations. Am I the only one who thinks this doesn't make any sense, that fewer nations compete in football than basketball in the European championships?

Granted, the football Euro will expand to 24 starting in 2016, but still, 24 countries in the EuroBasket makes for an unnecessarily bloated field. There's certainly great depth in the quality of national teams in European basketball, but 16 is a sufficient number for the field.

Many observers voiced complaints last summer that the World Championships were unnecessarily bloated with a 24-team field. I think there's sufficient quality around the world to support 24 in the Worlds, though I would tinker with the allocations by continental federations a little bit. But 24 at the EuroBasket? Too much.

Still, the most ridiculous field is that of the Olympic Games - especially given that this is now the world's most important basketball competition - still stuck at a mere 12 nations because the IOC has denied FIBA's request to expand to 16, to date.

That's 12 nations, even with one spot allocated to hosts, and spots reserved for the champions of Africa and Asia, as they should be, in my opinion, but those nations are not consistently competitive with the best of Europe and the Americas. Another spot is allocated to the winner of an Australia-New Zealand series, which essentially leaves eight spots for the best teams from Europe and the Americas.

There's just far, far too much basketball talent in the world - both individual and team - which deserves to be showcased during and allowed to compete in the Olympic Games. C'mon, IOC, this is dumb.

Were I the world basketball czar, the Olympics and the EuroBasket would have 16 teams apiece, and the World Championships would have 24, with an allocation slightly more favorable to Europe and the Americas.

3. Why so many games? Why 11 games in 19 days? Why the pre-Olympic qualifying tournament?
Why is the 24-team EuroBasket field such a big deal to me? Well, Tuesday was a day of rest after six days of basketball. But if you're worried that you've missed the action to date, don't fret: there are still a full 12 days of competition left.

EuroBasket is a 19-day competition which requires its top teams to play 11 games. With the uncertainty about when I'll see NBA basketball again, I'm certainly hungry for competitive basketball, but that's just too much. It's unfair to the players - especially to the marquee players who play through the grueling NBA season - to have to play that much in the summer, especially when it's just unnecessary due to the expanded field. A maximum tournament length of 9 games and 16 days should not be exceeded.

What's further ridiculous is that the qualifying is not completed this summer. By the end of this year's tournaments, 9 countries will have qualified for the Olympics, and another 12 will qualify for the FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament next July to determine the final three spots.

In 2008, Dirk and Germany had to play five games in eight days in July to qualify for the Olympics, followed by the Olympics (potentially 15 days, though Germany was eliminated after 9). Imagine if that had been on top of one of Dirk's playoff runs to the NBA Finals.

Again, it is unfair to ask so much of the players, especially when it is just unnecessary. There's no reason the qualifying process can't be finished now. In 2008, European teams won all three spots at the qualifying tournament. Europe clearly deserves at least one extra bid, for starters. If there are playoffs for the last two spots at all, they should be single games in which 4th place in Europe plays 2nd in Oceania (i.e. Australia-New Zealand loser), and 5th place in Europe plays 3rd place in the Americas.

4. Why overlap Euro & Americas (& Oceania)?
I can only imagine that this couldn't be avoided for some reason, but as a hoops fan not knowing when he's going to get his next NBA meal, I'm frustrated that the EuroBasket and the FIBA Americas tournament are running concurrently.

Why can't we get two weeks of one followed by two weeks of another? I want to appreciate the old lions of Argentina's Golden Generation getting their due at home, but the mayhem in Lithuania is too entertaining to be pre-empted. For that matter, I wish that even the three-game Australia-New Zealand series to decide the FIBA Oceania bid - running Wednesday-Friday-Sunday this week - weren't running concurrently, as well. I'd watch that, too.

I just want to watch your games, FIBA. Give me a chance to keep up.

To that end, I wish FIBA Europe would take a page out of the book of the NCAA Tournament. During the first round of the EuroBasket, there were often as many as four games running concurrently, with multiple compelling matchups overlapping more often than not. Staggering the tip-off times of games by 15 or 30 minutes would be helpful in allowing hungry basketball fans to catch as many of the games as possible.

5. I wish I knew how to quit you, trapezoid lane!


It's the first major FIBA competition without the trapezoid lane, and I gotta say that I miss the weird old dog. It's a tough one for me, as I'm in favor of the standardization of basketball rules across the globe, but I really liked how the trapezoid opened up the floor, and forced big men to have to have skill in addition to strength.

6. Frustrated by the draws, but excited for the basketball ahead
I'm frustrated that the lopsided nature of the EuroBasket draw will likely leave two deserving teams from Group E (France, Serbia, Spain, Turkey, Lithuania, Germany) out of the quarterfinals, and Dirk Nowitzki likely out of the Olympics. But the bad luck of the draw is the luck of the draw to a certain degree.

Don't get me wrong, despite the frustrations I've voiced in this space, I think we've had a great EuroBasket to date, and I fully expect things will only get more compelling form here. I can't wait to see how things shake out in Lithuania, and also at the FIBA Americas tournament in Argentina.

OK, enough musings and rantings on international sport for one night. Don't get me going on the IAAF's idiotic false-start rule change which robbed the world of a Usain Bolt World Championships 100 in his prime....

• Also today on The Painted Area: EuroBasket 2011 second round reset & analysis

16 Comments:

At 7:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The question is to whom are the FIBA Worlds more important?

Certainly to the NBA and the players in it. Everyone you quoted has some sort of relation to the NBA. International players have to persuade their teams to let them play for their country and they have a tough time doing so for tournaments their clubs don't respect. They also try to all compete at the same tournaments so I see what you are saying about international NBAers as more of a standardization to help the NBA. Don't forget that most players chose to participate in the Eurobasket because they knew about the lockout...
In general I think that this Eurobasket was a one off as it coincided with the lockout.

Now the reasons why the FIBA Worlds are more important:

1. They are hosted by a nation that wants to host a BASKETBALL tournament and not the Olympics.
Greece and Turkey have hosted the Worlds in the recent past whilst Spain is next. Japan is a country that likes hosting international tournaments and get good crowds to watch all games not just their own. The only tournament that didnt have the domestic hype you would expect was the one in the US...

2. The Worlds used to be more interesting to the non-American viewers because it gave them a chance to win. Now that the US sends a competitive squad and European teams are better, it just makes the Worlds a far more competitive tournament than the Olympics. Think of 2008. No Italy, no France, no Serbia, no Slovenia, no Turkey, no Brazil, no Puerto Rico. Thats practically half of the good teams in the world. The Olympics don't start to get interesting until the semifinals.
Again, think about the 2004 and 2000 Olympics. They were very boring. An average Italy team made it to the finals in 2004. I'm not saying that the other teams didn't compete with their best teams, its just that with so few teams theres little room for upsets early in the tournament.

3. The Olympics in 2008 were extremely hyped up in the US BECAUSE of the FIBA Worlds. In 2006 the US were expected to win by a landslide. The whole redeem team thing, Kobe finally playing for Team USA, an angry performance against Greece were all because of 2006.

 
At 3:28 PM, Anonymous Lee said...

I agree. It's difficult to make any judgment on what's happening this summer given the NBA lockout and how many players are playing that wouldn't have otherwise (Deng and Noah come to mind) and bringing a lot more attention to the tournament given the vacuum the lockout is leaving.

 
At 11:25 PM, Anonymous Master said...

I see u both are americans. You dont understand European culture. For every basketball player in Europe, the olympics is most important event. This year eurobasket happens to be a qualification for olympics. If not the lockout there would be much more european/nba players in the eurobasket. But with lockout player insurance is so much more expensive.

 
At 7:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Master,
I am European and I think that for us Europeans and not only me, the World Championship is more important.
I took the time to list a couple of reasons why I think so, so why don't you?
I chose not to say that I am European because I thought it was irrelevant although I understand the "European culture" just fine...

 
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