The NBA and the FIBA World Cup: A Collision Course Waiting to Happen

I originally wanted to write about the Indiana Pacers. I wanted to write about the Pacers being good enough to win most of their games despite Danny Granger’s injury. This is because Paul George and David West are more than picking up their share of the load. They’re making up for Granger’s absence, and the surprisingly dull play of Roy Hibbert.

Yes, that’s THE Roy Hibbert who was an All-Star last year. In case you haven’t been paying attention to Indiana (read: you’re part of the majority), Hibbert has been a disappointment this season.

But more on that for another day. Something is bigger than both Roy Hibbert and the DISAPPOINTMENT Roy Hibbert has brought to the Pacers.

The NBA and FIBA are not going to sail over
smooth waters anytime soon.
(image from

In case you haven’t been paying attention to FIBA (read: again, you’re part of the majority), the governing body of international basketball has thrown a wrench into their own system, effectively changing the international basketball calendar after the 2014 World Championships in Spain, and, essentially the whole landscape of international basketball as we know it.

Now before we look at some of the changes, let’s look at the motivations behind these changes:

Motivation #1: Football is too big. Basketball, no matter how many Kobe and LeBron jerseys are sold (and whether they’re bootleg or not), will always be the “other” team sport, especially during FIFA World Cup years (the FIFA and FIBA world tourneys have always been held in the same year – who the hell thought of that in the first place anyway?).  Basketball has been the “fastest growing sport in the world” since the ‘90s, but it has never been the “biggest sport in the world.” That was, is, and, let’s face it, will always be football. FIBA wants to estrange itself from the “beautiful game” once and for all.

Motivation #2: FIBA wants the best players to play, and the best players are in Europe and in the NBA. The NBA and FIBA have always had a strained relationship when it comes to having players play in international meets. This is mainly because NBA owners are afraid their “financial investments” will blow up if their players get injured playing for a team other than their NBA club. It doesn’t matter, of course, that these kids are playing for their country or in the Olympics. All that matters is that the owners feel they’re not getting shortchanged of the millions they freely chose to pay these hoopsters. FIBA wants to find a way where the best players can play for their respective clubs and countries without too much risk.

Motivation #3: FIBA wants to build its brand, and they envision achieving this through more exposure. They know they’re not the most popular basketball group in the world (and they never will be). They know that they’ll never be what FIFA is to UEFA, but that won’t stop them from trying. You gotta love the spirit behind these FIBA bigwigs, though. It’s like they’re down by 20 with 2 minutes to go, and they’re still chucking those threes. A lot of heart, but maybe not a lot of sense. To get more exposure, they basically want a longer qualifying period that involves as many countries, playing venues, and audiences as possible.

Okay, now for the changes:

Change #1: The World Championships will now be known as the World Cup. Not the Football/FIFA World Cup, but the Basketball/FIBA World Cup. Aparrently FIBA is singing a different tune now – if you can’t beat ‘em, have the same name they have. Remember Motivation #1 – wanting to distinguish themselves more from FIFA? Yep, this is the PERFECT way to do it.

I, however, will give this to them – renaming the World Championships as the World Cup may actually drum up more interest and more buzz. It’s a catchier label. It makes perfect business sense.

Imagine this:

FIBA: Hey, can you sponsor the 2019 World Cup (to be explained later)?
Sponsor: 2019 World Cup? Really? But there was just a 2018 World Cup (FIFA)! Wow! Another World Cup!
FIBA: Yes… but it’s not –
Sponsor: OMG! I have to tell my boss! He’s gonna go bonkers!
FIBA: Before you tell your boss, you have to know –
Sponsor: 100,000 people in the stands! Just imagine the exposure for our brand! Football is so awesome!
FIBA: Ummm… it’s not football, you see.
Sponsor: Not football? Oh, is there any other kind of World Cup?
FIBA: Why, yes, there’s the (he sees that the Sponsor is shaking his head and about to turn away)…
Sponsor: That’s a shame… football gives so much exposure…
FIBA: It’s NOT football. It’s ummm… soccer?
Sponsor: Oh, right! You Americans don’t use football at all! Haha! Now I understand!
FIBA: Actually we do use football, but for… never mind.
Sponsor: I’ll get my boss right away! Oh I have to order 20,000 vuvuzelas!
FIBA: Soccer sucker.

Change #2: The qualifying format will be drastically different. The current system involves FIBA zonal and subzonal qualification tournaments. Top finishers in those meets advance to the next level until a certain number of teams book tickets to the World Championships or the Olympics. Simple.

Now they want to make it different by making it almost exactly the same as what FIFA uses. Teams, especially teams in the lower rungs, will have to qualify through home-and-away matches in a stepladder format. This means the process will take place in different venues and in a longer span of time (remember FIBA’s desire to have more exposure?). The Post-2014 World Cup, for instance, will need a 2-year qualifying period. Again, it looks like good business sense, but I personally don’t like it because some teams will almost never get to play top-flight competition this way. In Asia, for instance, teams like Singapore and Vietnam will have to slug it out for the right to face Indonesia. The winner of that match will then play India. The winner of THAT match will… it just goes on and on. How can the lower-ranked teams improve if they don’t play top-level sides? But, then again, leveling the playing field isn’t exactly one of the motivations.

Change #3: The number of qualifying teams will increase from 24 to 32. YEY! Now this one I like. In fact, I’ve long thought of why it took FIBA this long to increase the number of teams. Now, aside from giving FIBA more exposure, this should level the playing field somewhat.

But wait…

Change #4: The FIBA Oceania zone will be subsumed in the FIBA Asia zone. WTF. This essentially means that, aside from Iran, Lebanon, Jordan, Qatar, China, Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, my Philippine team now has to worry about Australia and New Zealand BEFORE even qualifying for the World Cup?!?!?! Change #3 suddenly became irrelevant.

And lastly…

Change #5: There will be no 2018 FIBA World Cup. There WILL be a 2019 FIBA World Cup. This is to avoid coinciding with the 2018 FIFA World Cup (and all other FIFA World Cups thereafter), again, because football is too big. No biggie, right? It’s just a one-year difference? WRONG.

At least in Asia, this is how things will look in the next few years (thanks to for opening my eyes to this):

2013: FIBA Asia Championships in Lebanon (boo) – qualifying for 2014 World Cup
2014: FIBA World Cup in Spain
2015: FIBA Asia Championships somewhere (probably China again) – qualifying for 2016 Olympics
2016: Olympic Games in Brazil
2017: FIBA Asia Championships somewhere (probably China again) – qualifying for… oh… nothing.
2017-2018: Qualifying games for 2019 World Cup (the championship game will probably be in China again)
2019: FIBA World Cup AND FIBA Asia Championships somewhere (probably China again) – qualifying for the 2020 Olympics
2020: Olympic Games

- The 2017 FIBA Asia Championships will basically have an empty cup as its biggest prize. No qualifying ticket to anywhere. Just a cup. Now which country will send its best team to win THAT?
- The 2019 calendar is going to be a killer with BOTH the World Cup and the FIBA Asia Championships. A KILLER I tell you. Fun for the fans, yes, but killer for the players.

Now, how will all these things affect the strange relationship between FIBA and the NBA? Simple. FIBA will schedule many qualifying games in the same months as the NBA and Euroleague seasons. As per Marc Stein of – “…six planned qualifying windows for the 2019 World Cup will be staged in November 2017, February 2018, June 2018, September 2018, November 2018 and February 2019. You'll notice, as you re-read that sentence, that four of those six windows take place at the same time that the NBA schedule calls for NBA players to play NBA games.”

NBA: Hey, FIBA! I thought we had a deal here?! Why you scheduling your games with our games?!
FIBA: Hey, NBA! Just lend us your players, man! We can have like “international breaks” so the NBA guys can suit up for their countries, man. Ain’t no biggie, right?
NBA: Screw you, FIBA! Why the hell would we want to make our season longer by having “breaks” when you can just schedule your games in the friggin’ summer?!
FIBA: ‘Cuz no NBAers play during the summer, dumbo! This is what football has been doing and it’s working!
NBA: It’s soccer, fool! And who the hell told you it’s working?!
FIBA: Why, my advisers from FIFA and UEFA of course!

So, yeah, the NBA is going to hate all these changes, and they’ll probably butt heads with FIBA now more than ever before.

And all because FIBA wanted to be “different” from FIFA – by following FIFA’s formula.

Kids, what is irony again?

Game Recaps (courtesy of the Sports Network):
Indiana 103, Dallas 83
All five Pacers starters scored in double figures, led by 15 points apiece from David West and George Hill, as Indiana finally lit up the scoreboard in a 103-83 win over the Dallas Mavericks. The Pacers, who had lost five of six coming in, eclipsed the century mark in regulation for the first time this season. They came in averaging a league-low 87.8 points per game, but shot a respectable 47 percent from the field and made 6-of-16 attempts from behind the arc on Friday. Sam Young chipped in 14 points off the bench for Indiana, which received 14 points and eight rebounds from Roy Hibbert. Lance Stephenson scored 10 of his 12 points in a lopsided second half, while Paul George netted 11 points in the victory. Dallas was paced by O.J. Mayo's 19 points and lost for the fourth time in five games. Darren Collison, who spent the last two seasons in Indiana, was held to 10 points on 3-of-10 shooting in defeat.

Philadelphia 99, Utah 93
Jrue Holiday poured in a game-high 26 points to help the Philadelphia 76ers down the Utah Jazz, 99-93, Friday at Wells Fargo Center. Holiday also handed out seven assists, while Jason Richardson buried five 3- pointers en route to 20 points and Thaddeus Young chipped in 14 points for the Sixers, who snapped a two-game skid. Paul Millsap paced the Jazz with 22 points and seven rebounds and DeMarre Carroll donated a career-high 17 points in the setback, Utah's second in a row.

Orlando 110, Detroit 106
J.J. Redick scored 23 points and hit the go-ahead basket with 42.8 seconds left as the Orlando Magic stopped their five-game losing streak by rallying for a 110-106 win over the Detroit Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Redick's 3-pointer from near the left baseline gave Orlando a 104-102 lead, and the sharpshooter later sank two clutch free throws to cap a late 7-2 spurt that helped the Magic overcome a 13-point deficit with under 15 minutes left. Arron Afflalo added 19 points and Glen Davis, Nikola Vucevic and Jameer Nelson each posted double-doubles for Orlando, which also recorded its first road victory in four tries this year. Nelson had 13 points and 10 assists in his first outing back from a six-game absence caused by a strained hamstring. Davis amassed 17 points and 13 rebounds, while Vucevic finished with 11 points and matched a career high by grabbing 13 boards. Greg Monroe netted 23 points and Tayshaun Prince ended with 18 on 7-of-11 shooting for a Detroit team that ended an eight-game skid to begin the season with Wednesday's 94-76 win at Philadelphia.

Golden State 106, Minnesota 98
David Lee notched a double-double with 18 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Golden State Warriors to a 106-98 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday. Harrison Barnes also scored 18 and added nine rebounds while Stephen Curry had 17 points and six assists for the Warriors, who have won two straight. Carl Landry netted 15 points off the bench and Klay Thompson donated 12 points in the victory. Derrick Williams netted a game-high 23 points and Alexey Shved added 22 points for the T'Wolves, losers in three of their last four.

Oklahoma City 110, New Orleans 95
Kevin Durant donated 27 points, nine rebounds and five assists on Friday to lead the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 110-95 thumping of the New Orleans Hornets at New Orleans Arena. Kevin Martin poured in 27 points off the bench and Russell Westbrook recorded a double- double with 10 points and 12 assists for the Thunder, who have won six of their last seven games. Ryan Anderson paced the Hornets with 15 points and seven boards, while Robin Lopez netted 12 points and Roger Mason Jr. added 11 points for New Orleans, which has lost two in a row.

Memphis 105, New York 95
The Memphis Grizzlies have made quite the early impression. Following back-to-back convincing wins over last year's NBA finalists, Memphis beat this season's last unbeaten team Friday and continued its best start in franchise history. Zach Randolph had 20 points and 15 rebounds and Marc Gasol added 24 points and seven boards in the Grizzlies' 105-95 victory over the New York Knicks. Rudy Gay netted 17 points and Mike Conley tallied 16 points and eight assists for Memphis, which is perfect since a season-opening loss to the Los Angeles Clippers and surpassed New York as the league's top team at 7-1. The Grizzlies, who extended their home winning streak to 15 games, throttled Miami, 104-86, on Sunday before beating the Thunder in Oklahoma City, 107-97, on Wednesday. New York, which began 6-0 for the first time since 1993-94, was led by Carmelo Anthony's 20 points.

Portland 119, Houston 117 (OT)
Damian Lillard scored 14 of his 27 points in the final 8:03, rallying the Portland Trail Blazers to another overtime win over the Houston Rockets, this time by a 119-117 decision at the Rose Garden. The Blazers pulled out a 95-85 overtime victory at the Toyota Center on Nov. 3, and needed to erase a 16-point deficit Friday just to force an extra five minutes. Nicolas Batum was the catalyst for the comeback, finishing with 35 points, while LaMarcus Aldridge added 29 points, including the go-ahead free throw late in OT to give Portland its second straight win coming off a four-game slide. James Harden logged 29 points to pace the Rockets, losers in five of their last seven games. Omer Asik added 16 points and 16 rebounds before fouling out, while Jeremy Lin logged 11 points, 11 assists and six boards in defeat.

Atlanta 112, Sacramento 96
Kyle Korver and Lou Williams combined for 43 points to lead the Atlanta Hawks to a 112-96 thrashing of the Sacramento Kings on Friday. Korver poured in a game-high 22 points and Williams had 21 points and five assists. Al Horford chipped in with 20 points and 10 boards and Josh Smith had 19 points, eight rebounds and dished out six assists for the Hawks, winners in two of their last three. Jason Thompson netted 19 points and Marcus Thornton donated 17 points off the bench for the Kings, losers of four straight. DeMarcus Cousins was held to just nine points, but pulled down a game-high 16 rebounds in the setback.

LA Lakers 114, Phoenix 102
A new coach is finally in place for the Lakers, but Mike D'Antoni and his crutches were unable to make it back in time for a reunion against the team where he rose to prominence. Instead, D'Antoni will make his debut Sunday. Kobe Bryant netted 31 points in the Lakers' 114-102 victory over the Phoenix Suns. Metta World Peace had 22 points, Dwight Howard tallied 18 points and 12 rebounds and Pau Gasol added 16 points and 10 boards for Los Angeles, which has won three of its four contests under interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff since a 1-4 start forced Mike Brown out of town. Goran Dragic recorded 22 points and seven assists for the Suns, who have dropped three of their last four games.

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