Who Chooses Dirk + LeBron International Path?
NBA stars such as LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki have long been expected by basketball fans worldwide to represent their country in International competition, despite the obvious drawbacks to the stars themselves. From Olympic play to the FIBA world championships, international competitions are loaded with NBA talent from across the globe, with players who routinely put their bodies on the line during their offseason in order to satisfy expectations placed on them by fans everywhere.
For most players it is considered honor and a privilege to represent their countries against the best players in the world. For some, grueling NBA regular-season schedules, combined with even more taxing playoff runs, make international competition a calculated risk – one that is often too dangerous or foolhardy to consider at times. All things considered, is international play really worth the risk?
On one hand, players like LeBron face enormous criticism from year to year due to their hesitance to compete in the Olympics or FIBA world championships – criticism that in James’s case in particular is misguided to say the least.
Since coming into the league LeBron has suited up for the USA five different competitions in five different countries, include three Olympic games. In that 38 Olympic games the 31-year-old helped Team USA accumulate 1 bronze and two gold medals, while being the unquestioned leader of the squad in the last two campaigns.
"When you're a part of Team USA and you represent your country, this is all part of the process," James said. "I've been part of representing the red, white and blue since I was 18 years old, 19. So it's great to be back and to have an invitation as well."
To put that into perspective, Michael Jordan, the man whom is widely considered the best player of all time, as well as the most competitively driven player of all time, only played in 16 games for Team USA in his 14 year career. By those numbers LeBron has participated in 22 more international games than Jordan, and that is not even counting the 17 FIBA tournament games LeBron participated in in 2006 and 2007.
So if LeBron has played in 55 games over 13 years, while everyone’s favorite player, Jordan, played in 16 games over 14 years, why is LeBron unpatriotic for his hesitance in competing?
"All of my decisions start with my family, seeing how my family feels about it," James said. "Then with my health. Going through another NBA campaign, seeing what I can do as far as my team back home in Cleveland, and we'll go from there."
Team USA basketball is arguably the most dominant team in the history of Olympic sports (men’s and women’s alike). There has always been, and will always be more than enough talent playing for the U.S. to keep that dominance from dissipating. There is so much home grown talent that LeBron, should he so chose, should never have to play another game for Team USA basketball for the rest of his career. James has put his body on the line for team USA a more than enough, let the man rest.
On the other side of the coin is Dallas Mavericks savior and Dallas sports icon Dirk Nowitzki, who faces a much different kind of criticism. However, much like LeBron, that criticism is misguided.
Let’s face it, Dirk is 37 and nearing the end of his surely hall of fame career. And after logging 50,610 minutes in 1,405 games for the Mavs, Dirk has earned the right to do what he wants during the summer. Even if that includes playing for the German national team in the European Championships this summer, which is set to take place in Berlin from September 5th – September 10th, before moving to France for the knockout stage.
While some Mavs fans argue that Dirk needs to rest and take care of his body this summer in preparation for the upcoming NBA season, Dirk prepares himself for international competition.
“If the Euros had been in any other country than Germany, I probably would have been a no-go,” Nowitzki said. “But this way I’m really looking forward to it, to playing in my home country. Representing Germany in Berlin, which is a great city and a great basketball city. It should be a blast.”
Dirk has put the Dallas Mavericks on the map. He was the driving force behind two division titles, two conference titles, and an NBA championship – all teams in which he was the only superstar in superstar-driven league. Dirk united the nation against the evil Miami Heat in 2011 for that championship. He is a league MVP, an NBA Finals MVP, a 12-time all-NBA performer, a 13-time NBA All-Star, and he is seventh on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.
If anyone has earned the right to make his own decisions in the offseason, it’s Dirk.
By all accounts, this could be Dirk’s final opportunity to play for the German National Team, and he should take full advantage of that opportunity if he desires it. The fact that he will be playing in Berlin in front of his family and thousands of people who idolize him and view him as the paladin of German Basketball, makes this an opportunity that is impossible to pass up.
For him. But possible to give up for LeBron. And both decisions about both paths should be made by the men walking them.
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