1996, the last time the Miami Heat did not have a representative in the Olympics.
Until this year.
International basketball is sometimes regarded as a joke, a foregone conclusion; Team USA wins and we all go home. But, to the players, it’s more. It’s fierce competition, in practice—playing against the NBA’s best every day and testing yourself.
The only other time you see Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins on the same team would be in the All-Star Game (talk about jokes); but that annual turnstile-lob-fest is hardly competitive. It’s a show.
It was the year after the 2012 Olympics that James Harden settled in on defense (though, he’s since regressed). Paul George made a jump that season, too. Kevin Durant shot his best free-throw percentage that year: 90.5 percent, as well as his second-best from beyond the arc, 41.6 percent; and so did LeBron James, hitting 40.6 percent from 3-point land, in the 2012-13 NBA season, according to basketball-reference.com. Call it coincidence or call it catalyzing, a lot of the 2012 USA Basketball roster had stellar seasons following the Summer games.
Having a current player on your roster that gets to test his mettle against the world’s greatest basketball players isn’t just a benefit for that player; it benefits his stateside team, too.
That player comes back with new moves, outlooks and knowledge of other high-level players, and he can share that wisdom with his fellow teammates, bringing them up a notch, too. Like how in “21,” Kevin Spacey, with his black jack acumen, taught all those college kids to count cards with their math skills, essentially creating a money-making monster. Having an Olympic representative is like having your own Kevin Spacey in “21.”
Plus, beating your enemy means understanding him; knowing what’s coming and how to stop it. How could you better do that than guarding him for an entire Summer, learning his tendencies and favored spots on the court?
The Heat will have to wait and see if one of their fledgling talents develops into a star if they want to have an Olympic representative. And there is hope: Justise Winslow made USAB’s 2016 Select Team, which is a team comprised of the top-25 young NBA players.
“Being chosen for the Select Team is an honor and it is an important step in becoming involved in USA Basketball’s National Team program in the future. Current national team players like Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, as well as many other outstanding players, got their USA National Team start through a Select Team,” said Jerry Colangelo, USA Basketball National Team managing director.
The USAB Select Team even got to practice with the USAB Team in late July, getting a taste of that All-NBA-level competition.
Miami not having a player representing them in the 2016 Olympic games isn’t season-altering. But there’s myriad evidence that being involved in that type of hyper-competitive environment brings the best out its players. Not to mention all the little hints and text messages players can send to player X [that isn’t on their team]—that you now know better because of USAB—trying to get him to come to their team.