International Basketball Culture: How America is Different

Basketball, NBA, NCAAB, CBB, College Hoops article at Knup Sports

Why do all of America’s top basketball stars skip the FIBA tournament? How much of a talent edge is the U.S missing from the days when it wasn’t a competition? 

Why do all of America’s top basketball stars skip the FIBA tournament? How much of a talent edge is the U.S missing from the days when it wasn’t a competition? 

International Basketball Culture: How America is Different

For decades, ever since the United States started allowing NBA players to play international tournaments, it has not been a debate which country has the best basketball players. At every Olympics and FIBA tournament, it is exceptionally clear that America is expected to be the best. Most people would think of it as an honor to represent their country, and for many it is.

Stars like Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony have earned their place in the Pantheon of international basketball legends. However, as of recent years, there has been a noticeable change in the type of player that suits up for the once great Team USA.

This year, the 2023 FIBA team consists mostly of young players trying to prove their worth, like Anthony Edwards, Tyrese Haliburton and Paulo Banchero, or veterans who have established themselves as role players, like Bobby Portis. After their recent loss to Lithuania, a country of under five million people, it is worth asking. Where did the stars go? 

Why Star Players Sit Out

Among the names of notable NBA stars missing from Team USA’s roster this year are Lebron James, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard, Devin Booker, and Jayson Tatum. Seven of the top 10 players in the NBA right there. Also non-American superstars Giannis Antetekounmpo and Nikola Jokic are also missing the tournament.

When you look at these guys, one commonality I see is they are all focused on securing an NBA championship for themselves. More so, these are all mostly guys whose team’s expectations for winning a championship ride on them. On the other hand, guys playing on Team USA are mostly on teams with lower expectations or guys not being counted on to take their teams to the promise land.

From that, the conclusion I draw is that as pressure to win a ring goes up, the expectation that you should play for Team USA goes down. 

I think that at this point, the way that rings are overemphasized in the NBA makes players prefer to spend their offseasons getting healthy and training with their teams than out in another tournament. Getting a gold medal means less to them.

On the other hand, international players are taught that this is their big stage, and pour their heart out after years of training when it comes to the FIBA tournament. Team USA is usually assembled weeks before the tournament with little training and expectations that skill will carry them. 

How this is affecting Team USA 

While historically, a few guys sitting out has not killed Team USA’s chances, it is worth noting that the world is now changing at this point. The NBA has brought in a host of international superstars, to the point where the world may now beat Team USA one on one. The fortunate thing is that these guys are mostly split up and play on rosters with a bunch of non-NBA guys, while Team USA still has an entire NBA roster.

Another thing going for them is that guys like Giannis and Jokic are embracing the NBA model and training in their offseason, proving they also now care about rings more than international tournaments. This means it will take a while for Team USA to lose their edge. 

However, it is still worth noting that their lack of training is now harder to make up for with a lower level of talent. They will take more losses, and now risk not having the best player on the floor if they play Canada with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander or Slovenia with Luka Doncic.

Other countries have guys with thousands of reps together, meaning it is easier to build cohesive chemistry. Talent does beat all, but Team USA will need to send their A-team in the future if they want to make tournaments easier on themselves, even if they do have a shot to win in 2023.

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