Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has long argued against NBA stars, including his team's own German legend Dirk Nowitzki, playing in FIBA tournaments and the Olympics. So it's not surprising that he's the loudest voice in the room on the topic in the wake of Paul George's terrible injury. As is so often the case, Cuban makes some good points that are ultimately lost amid a whole lot of bluster.
This time around, Cuban has chosen to focus on the financial aspect. A representative tweet:
When considering FIBA/Olympic events ask who gets paid. Players=No. NBA=No FIBA/IOC=YES. Ask the people making money of us what they think— Mark Cuban (@mcuban) August 4, 2014
We'll assume a sic in that tweet, that Cuban meant "ask the people making money off us what they think." Cuban would have NBA owners and players ditch FIBA and the International Olympic Committee and collaborate to create "their own World Cup." Of course, that very tweet making the case for independence is totally hilarious in its construction.
Cuban rightly claims that FIBA and the IOC are making money off of players. But what the hell does the NBA -- by which Cuban surely means NBA owners -- have to do with it? How are FIBA and the IOC making money off of the NBA? By virtue of its existence? Well, buddy, spoiler alert, lots of entities (including the website you are currently reading) make money by virtue of the NBA's existence.
This is a crucial point to understand about a certain breed of NBA owners like Mark Cuban: they think they are actually indispensable. They think that the success of the NBA depends on their brilliance, their capital, their foresight, their natural talent. This is what led the owners to lock out players for five months in 2011. The owners thought they deserved half of the revenue generated by the sport, even though a far greater share of the revenue is there simply because of the presence of the best basketball players in the world.
"Ask the people making money off us what they think." That sounds like a damn fine hook for NBA players to sing in 2017 when the current labor deal is up for negotiation. Capital is necessary, providers of capital deserve to profit and the NBA bureaucracy as a whole does a good job expanding the league's interests. No one would argue that NBA owners shouldn't profit off of the league they have invested in financially.
All we're asking for is some perspective. It's perfectly clear that the main reason the NBA is so profitable is because of LeBron, Durant, Kobe and the dozens of stellar players in the ranks. That's the same reason most Americans, at least, will watch the FIBA World Cup or the Olympic tournament. It's the presence of awesome players, and the specter of awesome games.
FIBA and the NBA
Mark Cuban blasts international basketball setup
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is making the media rounds and hoping to change how the NBA allows its players to participate in international competition.
FIBA and the NBA
Cuban thinks we're all stupid -- players, fans and media alike. He's obscuring his actual argument against FIBA and the IOC. His real issue is that he's paying Player X $10 million a season to play for his team, and if Player X plays for Country Y in the summer and gets injured, the Mavericks are potentially screwed for the next season. Meanwhile, the Mavericks make no money off of the exploits of Player X when he's with Country Y. You can tell this is how Cuban really feels because he endorsed this piece out of Dallas that focused on the fact that NBA free agents rarely participate in Team USA. He's mad that his team's quality is risked by the patriotism -- by the free will -- of his players.
There are real issues with property and propriety here. Players have bargained away some rights -- no riding motorcycles, snowboarding or playing for cash in unsanctioned basketball events, for example -- but have retained others, including representing their countries in international play. Cuban is arguing for fewer player rights and more NBA owner propriety over the biggest non-NBA basketball events in the world. Cuban is fully financially motivated, but his financial motivation has a side effect of player control.
Cuban pays his players a salary to perform from October to June. If he wants to buy control of his players in July, August and September too, that's going to cost him. (I'm aware of no restriction on whether teams can negotiate participation in FIBA action when signing players to contracts. Unless I'm mistaken, Cuban could have negotiated a lack of participation in Team USA into Chandler Parsons' offer sheet, if Parsons was amenable. As in "I'll give you $15 million a year if you withdraw from Team USA participation so long as you are under contract." It does not appear this happened considering Parsons is on the 16-man Team USA roster.)
Further, no one is forcing the Mavericks to sign players who star for their national teams. When Dallas traded for Nowitzki a decade and a half ago, Cuban surely knew that Dirk would be playing for Germany every few years. Every time Cuban has re-signed Nowitzki, he's known that it would come with regular FIBA sojourns. It's part of the deal: if you have international players or the very best Americans, they will be playing in August and September most summers. If you don't like this, you can build your team accordingly.
Finally, Cuban's major flaw in thinking the financial case will work to disable FIBA and the IOC is in believing that money is the only reason anyone will ever do anything. It may be the only reason he will ever do anything. And it may work on most people, in most cases. But patriotism, pride and the opportunity to play alongside the game's greatest stars play a role here too that Cuban is totally discounting. A substitute World Cup that doesn't result in a chance at Olympic gold isn't going to replicate the experience at all.
The dirty little secret about the basketball World Cup is that the only Americans who actually pay attention once it begins are the sports media and hardcore basketball addicts. Only 900,000 Americans tuned in to the championship game in 2010, despite the presence of Durant, Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook and a strong opponent in Turkey. International fans eat it up. Americans don't. The only reason the World Cup matters around here is because the winner gets an automatic bid in the Olympics, thus avoiding another offseason tournament in the years between.
That's the big reason Team USA badly wants to win. (Also, it's considered un-American to lose. See 2004.) How often has a top American player listed a FIBA World Championship among his top achievements? Never? That sentiment does happen with Olympic gold, though. That, to Americans, is a real achievement.
So Cuban's grand plan for a substitute World Cup divorced from FIBA and thus necessarily from the IOC isn't going to scratch the itch the players have for Olympic gold. But it would get more money generated by basketball stars into the pockets of team owners, and it would give NBA owners more control over their players. That's what scratches Cuban's itch. If only he would be honest about it.