“How the NBA Could Redeem Itself as the World Basketball Power” The 2005 Men's World Championships

Qualifying Tournament which was held weeks back wasn't really awesome either although which was represented by non-NBA players, and finished fourth place (with a 4-6 slate) even it was able to accomplish its mission by plain luck to earn a spot for the U.S. team at the FIBA World Championship in Japan next year (Aug.19 - Sept. 3). If the NBA is serious about getting back its pride in its basketball, it must plan ahead and push a system which supports an acceptable time-frame (at least 3 months) for their best players to participate and practice together. If not as an NT, playing at a club team level against international teams will help individual players exposure and capability. Forget that the NBA was able to win over their rivals by huge margins in the last qualifying tournament in 2003. The serious blow was the defeat of NBA players in the 2002 World Championships, and 2004 Olympics by huge margins; to Puerto Rico , Italy , lost to Argentina , to Lithunia. {The Bronze medal game was a skin of your teeth victory.} At a club level, Toronto's basketball club even dropped a game versus Euro-powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv in an exhibition match. Whether they are supposedly a non-playoff team, and also a club team with consistent experience playing against top-calibre NBA opponents is a case to ponder for comparison. Unless the Americans will win it all back (by priority & focus), the names in line-ups of NBA rosters whoever they may be composed of - would only mean as thick as paper. NBA players have to acclimate to international rules and have more international competition, at an NT and club level. Try widening competition to include European Teams from the Euroleague and the champions clubs of South America (just like the Mcdonald's Championships a few years back). Organize and have an annual international invitation which could be part of the NBA All-Star weekend to include these international teams. Hiring different coaches from Europe could invigorate different systems and thinking. They must not overlook to sign top European/ International players that have played and also beaten U.S. basketball (such as Lithunia , Italy , Argentina , Spain ..). Euro-Stars such as Macijauskas, Jasikevicius, Zukauskas, Siskauskas, Javtokas, Scola, Oberto, Bodiroga, Garbajosa, Basile, Galanda..etc would help players not only get used to th eir various styles but also to develop coaches strategies come FIBA competitions. The NCAA is a great source of quality players, but it still needs many years to mold players to compete at the highest level, most of all win in an Olympic and at a World Basketball level. Another source of talent and which would most likely have immediate impact, may just come from American players playing abroad especially from these Euro competitions. The foundation of international basketball especially at a European level is really its fantastic international tournaments year round. The exposure to different players, strategies and competition is great; and because it encompasses a whole continent with around 40+ leagues. Its rules has made all get used to the zone defense and play an offense that is used to the sizes, heights, atheleticism and capabilites of different nationalities which are used to international rules and tournaments. Again, competition is the key, but at a higher international level. The primary basketball leagues in Europe are the Spanish ACB (with 18 teams), the Italian Seria A (18 teams), the French LNB (18 teams), the Greek HEBA league (14 teams), the Israeli Premier league (12 teams), the Turkish TBL (14 teams) and Russia�s A Superleague (13 teams).

Other leagues such as Lithuania�s LKL (9 teams) {whose teams also play in the 10-team 3 nation Baltic League which includes the champion clubs of Latvia and Estonia }, the German 1.Bundesliga (16 teams) and Serbia & Montenegro�s YUBA Liga (8 teams)..etc. whose teams also play in the tougher 16-team Adriatic League composed of 4 nations which include champions and the top clubs from Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Slovenia; nation-states from the Old Yugoslavia, are not on the same par of talent and competition, and quality of players maybe too deeply concentrated on a few top teams; also due to dilution and that most of Europe�s top talent already play in the primary leagues. The club teams of these national leagues usually play between 24-34 regular season games and up to a 15-game playoffs, plus games they play in their domestic nations cup. The champions (and top echelon teams) from all of these national leagues play against one another in a higher competition called the Euroleague; where Macabbi Tel Aviv of Israel previously reigned. This is a 13-nations competition composed of 24 club teams; 3 groups of 8 teams, which go thru a 14 games round robin system in the regular season, and another 6 games round robin played between the top 16 teams to get the best finishers who will advance to the best of three quarterfinal play-offs & single game semifinals then finals; where basketball powers such as Spain, Italy, Greece and France have 5, 4, 3, & 2 representations respectively, due to reason that their national leagues are considered to have the most competitive clubs. Other major competitions are the ULEB Cup ( last won by Lietuvos Rytas of Lithunia), which used to field 42 club teams will be sized to 24 teams; divided into 4 groups of 6 teams which will include reigning domestic champions of rising basketball powers from Belgium, Holland, Latvia, Poland, the Adriatic League champion, and the elite but runner-ups clubs of the major leagues from France, Russia, Germany, Turkey..etc. The other major tournament would be the FIBA EuroCup (recently called the Europe League, and last won by Russia �s Dynamo St. Petersburg). It is a 32-team competition divided into 8 groups of 4 teams that comprise champion teams from Bulgaria , Cyprus , Ukraine , Poland , Netherlands .. etc., & joined by lesser ranked club teams from France , Israel , Russia , and Turkey etc.. The fourth major Pan-European competition is the Eurocup Challenge (recently called the FIBA Europe Cup, won by Romanian club champions Ploiesti) comprises 24 teams in its entirety; from different regions of North, South, West & Central Europe, considered the merged tournament of the previous Sapporta & Korac cups, probably has the weakest teams: teams from Cyprus, Switzerland, Estonia, Denmark, Hungary, the Czech Republic,..a number of teams aren�t champion clubs or are not even ranked club teams in their own leagues. The tournament actually gives oppurtunities for clubs teams of lesser basketball power nations, although the inclusion of a few mid-level Russian clubs has been enough for these to dominate its play-offs. The two finalists of this competition are entitled to be included in the higher level, FIBA EuroCup. The primary national leagues of Latin/ South America are: the Argentine Liga A has a 16-team premiere league, the Brazilian BNL (16 teams), the Puerto Rican BSN (9 teams), Mexican LNBP (20 teams), and possibly the LBP de Venezuela (8 teams) and the LUB of Uruguay (16 teams). The LIDOBA may not be considered a top league but an important one. The Dominican Republic is a great source of tale nt; was unbeaten in the last Central American Championships. Its NT has won over likes of Puerto Rico & Mexico. [With talent signed to the NBA such as Felipe Lopez and Francisco Garcia.]

The LIGA Sudamericana De Clubes is the top competition, similar to the FIBA Euroleague of Europe for the South American continent (currently won by Uberlandia of Brazil ). It comprises 14 clubs from 8 nations, divided into 4 groups. Although it still has an incomplete representation, it currently has no club team from Uruguay . Another competition, the South American Club Championships (won by Boca Juniors of Argentina in 2004) has only eight competitors from 7 nations in the tournament. Its structured with fewer club teams and few representative club from the basketball powers of Argentina , Brazil and Venezuela ,..etc. and alike the previous tournament, has no representation of club teams from Central America (such as club teams from Puerto Rico and Mexico ). The NBA wouldn�t continue to dominate or even win as an NT or even at a club team level if it will not widen its competition base to an international & world level at a regular basis. Signing international players will have its limits due to the possibility that many players are tied by European/ International contracts or opt not to play in the states. (They could benefit by cutting the number of games played from 82 by at least 20 games less as it would improve regular season games quality, and may use this difference for the purpose of the national team.) NBA basketball must learn to refocus its mission to competition rather than entertainment and learn to take the helm of basketball practice once again, by using the development of its players of its NT as precedent of how a team should be developed to play superior basketball. The consistent exposure to the best players & teams at a world level perspective will put the NBA and also American basketball again at the apex, as it would eventually be lead and be pushed to evolve to compete in the highest form. NBA Commissioner David Stern needs to take this plan and effort to heart. Victor G. Tobias vgtobias@yahoo.com
Oct 7, 2005