x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Patriotism at the cost of NBA title?

The Los Angeles Lakers must be happy. The San Antonio Spurs have announced that their star Manu Ginobili will not be coming back this season.

The Los Angeles Lakers must be happy. The San Antonio Spurs have announced that their star Manu Ginobili will not be coming back this season. Ginobili has hobbled this year because of an ankle injury sustained while playing for Argentina in the Olympics. As a result, the Spurs are effectively also-rans for the NBA title chase set to begin in a few days time. It will be interesting to see if NBA teams will now move to block their star players from suiting up for national teams.

The issue no one in the NBA wants to talk about is the risk the league runs by letting its stars play in international events such as the Olympics. It is difficult to monetise the benefits an NBA club receive by allowing their best players to go play for another team. It isn't hard to compute the injury risks. The extra workload on players also raises the probability of injury down the line. Like automobiles, humans only have so many kilometres in their bodies. As it stands, the NBA continues to encourage its players to participate in international play.

Where is the quid pro quo for the NBA? Cui bono? Much like newspapers giving their content away for free online all the while charging for the print version, no one can easily draw a straight line between the act of a club letting a national team use their contracted player for an international tournament and the financial gain for the club in question. Mark Cuban, the owner of Dallas Mavericks, appears to be a voice in the wilderness, screaming out against the stupidity. "I have been saying for years that international competition should be for amateurs or players willing to un-guarantee their contracts. My position hasn't changed. It may be fun and rewarding for the players, but there is no upside and tons of downside for the teams and their teammates," Cuban said last week.

Perhaps the Spurs ownership will join the Cuban bandwagon. Certainly their fans and season-ticket holders will take a long look at lending out players in the future, even if they ever supported the idea of letting their contracted stars play for their national teams. Ginobili will make US$9.9 million (Dh36.5m) this season and 10.7 million in the following season. Every dollar is guaranteed. What if he never recovers from this nagging injury?

The Spurs team are already old and their other star Tim Duncan is about to become 33. The current group's window is closing and, realistically, this year was one of the their last chances to make a run at the NBA title. Of course, the Lakers and their significant fanbase aren't crying for basketball fans in the Alamo city. In fact, they should be downright happy that the Spurs are no longer a significant play-off threat. The starting centre Andrew Bynum is back and almost ready to go at full strength.

The team is enjoying one of its best seasons in the past 20 years. They have great depth backing up their All-Star talent. This could end up being another title year for legendary coach Phil Jackson. And yet imagine if instead of Ginobili, Kobe Bryant had gotten injured at the Olympics. The Lakers wouldn't be running the table as they have done this season. They probably wouldn't have factored in the list of favourites for the Finals. And the NBA would have probably moved to block any of its contracted players from ever participating again in international competition.

What a different basketball season it would have been. In any case, none of those hypotheticals are worth mentioning. You can still bank on a Cleveland Cavaliers-Los Angeles Lakers finals, and with the Cavaliers now enjoying home court advantage throughout the play-offs, they are in the driver's seat. @Email:sports@thenational.ae