A horde of media members swarmed his USA Basketball teammates as Anthony Davis sauntered onto the court Sunday at George Washington University. Kobe Bryant was surrounded on one end of the bench, with Kevin Durant and LeBron James fielding questions a few seats away. On the floor, there were clusters of reporters around Tyson Chandler and Chris Paul.
Davis walked past the scorer’s table and sat at the far bench, by himself. The baby of the bunch at 19, he could be USA Basketball’s face of the future in two ways — as a player on multiple Olympic teams or the prototype for subsequent teams.
Once the London Games end, presumably with another gold medal from the U.S. men’s basketball team, a new era might begin. Commissioner David Stern has hinted at implementing a 23-and-under age-limit for NBA players in future Olympics. That wouldn’t necessarily eliminate Davis from consideration in 2016, but it would reduce the number of players who ever compete in the Games and create more one-and-done Olympians.
James and Carmelo Anthony are participating in their third Olympics, the same number Dwyane Wade would have if he weren’t injured. This will be Durant’s first and last Olympics if the rules are changed, a prospect he opposes adamantly.
“I think they shouldn’t do that,” Durant said shortly before practice. “I want to play in the Olympics again. We have some of the best players in the world here. Hopefully we stick to what we’re doing now and I can play in a few more.”
That’s understandable. But so is the NBA’s concern about wear-and-tear on its most valuable players. Blake Griffin was selected for the Olympic team but suffered a knee injury during practice last week — the day after he signed a five-year, $95 million contract extension with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Fans have been spoiled since the “Dream Team” came together in 1992 and transformed the nature of international basketball. There’s no rule that the U.S. squad must be replete with All-NBA selections and eventual Hall of Famers. If our college players had continued their streak of Olympic gold medals, no one would have complained about the absence of NBA talent.
As long as we still win, it shouldn’t matter whether the team includes oldheads such as Bryant (33) and James (27) or is limited to youngbloods such as Durant (23) and Kyrie Irving (20). Most members would have a few years of NBA experience even with the age limit, and we’d still be favored to win the gold.
“We have great players in our league under the age of 23,” James said. “If that’s going to be the rule, we have enough to compete at the highest level. The game of basketball in this country is very strong, no matter the age class.”
The problem can occur when the classes are mixed. We turned to NBA players because the rest of world was sending its top pros and our college kids eventually were overmatched. The world even saddled our NBA-led Olympic team with a bronze medal in 2004, and international players flourish throughout the league.
Davis said it’s been “a pretty big leap” in adjusting from Kentucky to the Olympic team, “a lot faster and more physical.” But he doesn’t think an age-limit would affect the team’s chances. “I think plenty of young guys can handle it,” he said. “You’re just playing basketball. It has nothing to do with experience.”
He pointed to his Wildcats, who won the NCAA title while starting three freshmen and two sophomores. But the age and experience gap in Olympic competition would be much greater if the U.S. alone makes a change.
That wouldn’t bode well at all.
“Just having young guys, if they’re competing against old guys, we’re going to lose,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “If they change [age limits] eventually in the Olympics, I would hope they change it for all countries.”