Monson: Olympic hoops age restrictions would limit best athletes
Every four years, about this time, talk emerges about who should be eligible to play basketball for Team USA and who shouldn't. It always centers on basketball, never synchronized swimming or Greco-Roman wrestling or rhythmic gymnastics.
Why is that?
From a competitive standpoint, aren't the Olympics supposed to be about allowing the strongest, fastest, best-trained humans on the planet to go at each other to see which ones are, indeed, the strongest, fastest and best trained? Basketball players, NBA players in particular, are human, right? You'd think they were a whole different species, somehow separate from the rest of our kind, based on some of the contrived limitations otherwise reasonable people want to put upon them.
David Stern recently suggested that maybe Team USA should be made up of players under the age of 23.
Should advanced age be a factor in any Olympic competition?
Soccer allows only three players 23 and older on each men's Olympic team, a power move going back a few decades, stemming from FIFA's desire to protect the unique value of the once-every-four-years World Cup.
Basketball has no World Cup.
What about NBA players from other countries who want to play on their national teams? Would that age limit apply to all NBA players or just Americans? Remember that almost all players in the Olympics are professionals competing in one league or another.
Kobe Bryant was right when he called Stern's suggestion "stupid." He also was on point when he said such a decision should be a player's choice.
Years ago, Mark Cuban raised questions about NBA players participating in the Olympics, asking why league owners should assume the risk for their contracted athletes playing and being exposed to injury or fatigue, all for the benefit of a hugely lucrative enterprise outside their own the Olympic Games.
Often, people forget the Olympics are big business and see them only as some kind of altruistic, patriotic call for representation of their country.
From that standpoint, Cuban is at least partially right.
But the significance of allowing athletes to compete for their homeland cannot and should not be minimized or summarily dismissed here. For lack of a better way of putting it, it is a pretty cool thing.
As for the risk concern, Bryant correctly pointed out that if those players invited to play for Team USA weren't competing on the national team, they would be running in scrimmages or pick-up games in gyms somewhere, putting themselves at equal or more risk there. Playing on a team with strong coaching, surrounded by good teammates, decent competition, and qualified trainers and doctors in a controlled environment could be a nice benefit during the offseason.
Yeah, high-profile NBA players stand out. They don't live in the Olympic Village, alongside weightlifters from Bulgaria, rowers from Portugal and beach volleyball players from Peru.
They wouldn't be featured in those sweet vignettes produced by NBC about unknown marathoners who ran from settlement to settlement on the plains of Kenya or the solitary trampoline gymnast in Korea who spent the first 14 years of his existence alone, bouncing his life away as a means of preparing for the Games.
But, hey, it's a global competition, in which the globe's greatest athletes throw down under the brightest of lights. It shouldn't matter if they're rich or poor, famous or anonymous, entitled or deprived, spoiled or gracious, young or old, from the NBA or the Estonian League.
It should matter only that they are the best their country can offer.
There should be no contrived restrictions. No condescending limitations. No protective stipulations. Not in badminton, not in basketball.
Only the best humans against the best humans.
Simple as that.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.