First off: I’m not a proponent of the NBA’s proposed under-23 rule that would revolutionise basketball internationally — for better or for worse.
Lost in the debate on whether NBA teams actually deserve the ability to “protect” the most essential cogs in the hierarchy — ie: superstars — is that perhaps it’s not so much the proposal that is flawed, but the arbitrary age that is associated with the preposition.
To wit: Is a 24 year old superstar really that much more valuable than a 23 year old superstar? Nonsense.
The proposed age limit, while not ideal because it would trivialize basketball as an Olympic sport, is far more damaging than simply preventing veterans from competing for a gold medal. The decision, meanwhile, coincides with the immense amount of young players that have the opportunity to leave a tangible dent in international history.
Perhaps in 2016 but more likely in succeeding Games, the effect of iconic athletes like Kobe Bryant or LeBron James would be lost. They would still influence the sport, of course, but the nature of the Olympics — and the eclectic crowds that generally tune in to watch — allows a casual fan base to enjoy basketball by watching the best players in the world. A dent would be made should they succeed in the World Cup, yes, but not quite on the same scale.
The rule, by way of attrition, constricts the demographic to basketball fans, potentially eliminating interest as it’s unlikely the forthcoming World Cup ever reaches the prominence of the Olympics.
Also: This means that players like Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving, Eric Gordon, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard, DeMarcus Cousins, Andrew Bynum and Greg Monroe would never be fortunate enough to experience the seminal larger than life sporting event.
Within the confines of the Team USA program, every player regardless of stature, fits into one singular goal — winning a gold medal. The experience is one that adds a bit of perspective to players that lose sight of the object of basketball — playing as a team, treating each other as a team and, ideally, winning as a team.
Shouldn’t we allow the dynamic market of young superstars the chance to capitalize on that rare opportunity?