A good team can be formed from the stars who were eliminated from the tournament in Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines: Nikola Jokic (Serbia) and Jamal Murray (Canada), the champion Denver Nuggets, Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece), Domantas Sabonis (Lithuania) and the super-talent Victor Wimpanyama (France). The biggest names in the NBA.
For various reasons they do not participate. The burly Jokic, who stands 2.11 meters tall and the best basketball player in the world, announced from his Serbian horse farm that he is “mentally and physically exhausted”, and Murray and Antetokounmpo are recovering from injuries and the only 19-year-old. He wants to focus on his long-awaited NBA debut with the San Antonio Spurs in the fall.
While other sports look forward to the World Series, many of the world’s best basketball players are impressing at the tournament. Of the top thirty scorers in the NBA, only six are players. The explanation is simple: the American season in which they earn millions is very difficult, injuries are looming on the horizon, and most important of all, the Olympic Games have greater prestige.
About the author
Koen van der Velden describes De Volkskrant About sports in the United States. Lives in New York.
It did not help that the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) organized the World Cup exactly one year before the Olympics since the last edition. Want to take a bite out of your well-deserved summer vacation for two consecutive seasons? Many basketball players don’t like that. So the choice is made quickly between the World Cup and the Games.
Curry to Paris?
It’s not just absolute high performers who drop out. Also missing are worthy NBA players such as Kristaps Porzingis (Latvia), Andrew Wiggins (Canada) and Japan’s Rui Hachimura. The latter focuses on his club, the Los Angeles Lakers. This week, a video appeared on social media in which he plays a tennis match with his famous compatriot Naomi Osaka.
America is missing older, established stars like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Stephen Curry, who played for their country in the past. Within a year, it will become clear whether they are ready for one last joint adventure in Paris. Curry, who has never competed in the Games, has previously indicated that he might be interested in making his Olympic debut.
In Southeast Asia, where games are mainly played in the basketball-mad Philippines, a select group of the second team has to do that on behalf of the Americans. “Sorry group” was the harsh assessment of former basketball player and podcast host Gilbert Arenas. He thought he was worthless.
None of the twelve basketball players have World Cup or Olympic Games experience. There’s no one from the Tokyo Golden Team there.
However, there is enough talent. Among the group full of young men in their 20s, six players averaged 20 or more points last NBA season. Dynamic scorer Anthony Edwards (22) for the Minnesota Timberwolves has especially shown himself in preparation. “He’s the undisputed man for us,” said coach Steve Kerr, who won the NBA title nine times as a player and coach. Brandon Ingram (New Orleans Pelicans) and Jalen Brunson (New York Knicks) are the other leaders in the selection.
The American team has not been afraid for a long time. The days of the Dream Team are over. When the team included players such as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Charles Barkley at the 1992 Barcelona Games, mere attendance was enough to win the gold medal. Surprisingly, the opponents stepped aside.
The current team is currently No. 2 in the FIBA rankings. Spain, the world champion, overtook the Americans at the end of last year, despite winning the Olympic final, albeit by a small margin, over France. This is the first time since maintaining the rankings that a country other than America has topped the list.
This is mainly due to the dramatic 2019 World Cup, when the team humiliated themselves with a seventh-place finish. Even then, cancellations rained in, but no one took into account the painful defeats to France and (in the consolation round) to Serbia. Before the tournament in China, the team had won 58 consecutive matches.
Bookmakers still see an inexperienced and depleted America as the favorites for the World Cup title, but pundits see formidable rivals in France, powerful Canada and champions Spain, among others. They know: It is possible to take over America. Things are not going well for the Team USA players. “We all know how he looks at us,” playmaker Tyrese Haliburton said. “It bothers us greatly.”
The best player in the tournament in advance is not with America, but with Slovenia. Dallas Mavericks’ powerful playmaker Luka Doncic (2.01 metres) helped his country win the European title and place fourth at the Tokyo Games. Frenchman Rudy Gobert (Minnesota Timberwolves) has the highest income in the World Cup, with $41 million annually.
However, the pressure will remain on the United States. In their country, early elimination is seen as shameful, and winning the tournament is taken for granted. This may be another reason why American stars are withdrawing: they can only lose in the World Cup.
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