It’s kinda complicated

By Ira Winderman
Updated: August 16, 2010

FLORIDA — When the United States defeated France Sunday afternoon in an exhibition at Madison Square Garden, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh will be little more than interested bystanders, having bypassed the opportunity to compete this summer with the national team. It is a decision that could resonate for years, perhaps leaving the entire U.S. program on the sidelines at the 2012 London Olympics. Farfetched? Perhaps. But there is a doomsday scenario that looms. Only the winner of the Aug. 25-Sept. 8 World Championships in Turkey receives an automatic 2012 Olympic berth. So if this watered-down U.S. entry, one that lacks the Miami Heat’s Wade, James and Bosh, among others, should stumble in any of its knockout-round games — in the round-of-16, quarterfinals, semifinals or championship game — it would mean having to re-qualify at next summer’s Tournament of the Americas in Argentina, a travel itinerary the prime U.S. stars certainly would prefer to bypass. But next summer the odds for success might even be further diluted, with Team USA possibly to complete not with second-tier NBA stars, as it is this year, but with no NBA stars at all. In 1998, amid an NBA lockout, USA Basketball had to forgo NBA talent at the World Championships. The result, with a rag-tag team of overseas American pros, minor-leaguers and collegians, was a bronze medal. Third place next summer at the Tournament of the Americas might not be enough for a 2012 Olympic berth, depending on how teams from the Americas fare this summer in Turkey. Should there be a lockout next summer, which, at least for now, appears likely, the working plan is for USA Basketball to send a team of collegiate players to represent the United States. That plan would be further complicated with NBA Draft selections likely to be unable to compete. Keep in mind that while all NBA players, regardless of national affiliation, likely would be held out of international competition next summer in the event of a lockout, that would not apply to non-NBA international professionals on other teams in the Americas region. And without a gold in the upcoming World Championships or a high enough placement next summer in Argentina, it would mean a last-chance Olympic qualifying tournament in 2012, one likely to be held within weeks, if not days, after the 2012 NBA Finals. When Wade, James, Bosh and similar NBA stars bypassed this summer’s participation, the goal was to create an extended break from international competition. Instead, anything short of a gold medal in Turkey could make the current road less traveled for the likes of Wade, James and Bosh into one of the most grueling for USA Basketball in years. And that could have the Heat’s Big Three rethinking their U.S. Basketball commitments. A loss in Turkey in September, combined with a loss at the labor-negotiating table in coming months, could have the NBA’s best literally playing year-round basketball in 2012, going directly from the NBA Finals to Olympic qualifying to the London Games themselves. Gold in Turkey is not merely a goal, it seemingly is essential. The road to London could be as simple as a Sept. 8 celebration, or a path that results in a basketball marathon to be played out over the next 24 months.