- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Larry Brown has been waving the red, white and blue, Mark Cuban the green-cloaked sheet of capitalism.

Their antithetical perspectives, both worthy, emanate from where they stand in the NBA hierarchy: Brown as the coach of the Pistons and Cuban as the owner of the Mavericks.

Cuban categorizes the Athens Summer Games later this year as an unnecessary burden on his players, five of whom compete on international teams other than the U.S. His point is well-taken. The NBA season is physically demanding enough on its practitioners. Additional mileage is a bane on the investments, as Cuban points out.

Brown, the coach of the U.S. Olympic basketball team, speaks from the altruistic position of an athlete finding honor in representing his country in global competition. That is a reward in itself, he says, a break from individual interests that cleanses the soul.

His is an ideal expressed in the past by those who have participated in international competition with something far greater to lose than a gold medal.

Brown dispenses another valid point as well.

“If the Dream Team didn’t go [in 1992], maybe [Cuban] wouldn’t have his players,” he says. “Maybe these kids would be playing soccer or something else. That makes me sick.”

Brown is not entitled to be sick by the notion that Dirk Nowitzki could be a goalie in Germany instead of a three-time All-Star in the NBA. The respective modesty of the venues hardly merits a case of indigestion in Brown.

It is assumed his health report is probably a reflection of the hyperbole-bound environment.

The original Dream Team did open the rest of the world to the possibilities of the NBA, the end result still undetermined.

The foreign invasion undoubtedly becomes harder to ignore with each draft, so compelling was the work of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan both on and off the court, along with the vision of commissioner David Stern to extend the NBA across the planet.

Both football and baseball have been shown to be too uniquely American to penetrate all the global markets. However, basketball, invented by a Canadian, is almost elementary to the uninitiated. You defend, rebound and shoot. The game’s ballet comes later, and only then after considerable practice and a certain aptitude.

Cuban, in trading barbs with Brown, is all too aware of the unpopularity of his claim. Yet as an owner consigned to the cold world of numbers, he is stuck with the tab no matter how high the purpose. Feel his pain.

“If things don’t work out, a player gets injured or [Brown] doesn’t like the way things are going, he can do what he has done everywhere else, just leave,” Cuban says, referring to the well-documented nomad that beats inside Brown.

Cuban, of course, lacks the flexibility to change addresses if one of his players tears an anterior cruciate ligament in international competition. In his peculiar business endeavor, it pays to be careless with the merchandise at times.

The public relations value of the Olympics to the NBA is something all of Cuban’s money can’t buy.

More than most owners, Cuban has benefited immeasurably from the global advertisement. He acknowledges it but thinks the job is complete.

His alternative is to send the collegians back to the Olympics. Implement a new system, he says. He will contribute his share of money to USA Basketball. Just leave his high-priced talent out of it.

A revamped system in the U.S. hardly would resolve the quandary before Cuban’s international players.

He is glued to the principle.

“I am responsible to everyone in the organization, particularly the fans, who much prefer watching our best players, playing at the top of their game,” Cuban says. “Larry is a great coach, and that is exactly what he should stick to. When he is responsible for a hundred million dollars or more in contracts, then I will respect his opinion on the subject.”

However legitimate his argument, Cuban is forgetting one of the sacred principles of the red, white and blue. To venture an opinion in America, no on-the-job-training is required.

Whichever way one is inclined to lean, the clash of both Brown and Cuban crystallize the dilemma before the NBA and its elite workforce.

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