Κυριακή, 8 Μαρτίου 2009

The future of International Basketball*

Basketball has always been in my blood. I grew up watching the Yugoslav national team win the World Championships in 1998 and 2002, as well as the Eurobaskets in 1995, 1997 and 2001. These were the proudest moments in the sports history of my country, and I dreamed of becoming part of those moments ever since. That is why I started playing basketball at the age of 7. Though I was a complete anti-talent for basketball, and was never really good at it despite my reasonable height (currently 1.90, still hoping I will grow a bit more :P), my passion for the sport never decreased, if anything, it only became greater as years passed. What made me different from other kids was my distinct contempt for the style of play in the NBA. I never really liked it, and have always regarded it as oversized black people dunking over each other (no racism intended). Which is why I was always proud that the rest of Europe, and the World played the game that they did, without being greatly influenced by the “dominant” basketball nation.

Which is what brings me to the point of my short essay. I was recently surfing the Internet and Youtube for random basketball videos. As usual, I go from looking up a random player to watching a completely unrelated video in several steps. That aside, I bumped into the Wikipedia article on the history of the 3-point line. Though I do not regard Wikipedia as a reliable source, I find it useful in finding other articles or statistics which are indeed helpful. When I saw a short sentence describing the difference between American and International 3 point lines, it stated that FIBA is going to change the 3 point line to the same distance of the NBA’s as of October 2010 (2012 for domestic leagues). When I checked out the footnote from that sentence, which led to FIBAs site, it turns out it was true. I was frustrated at first, but it only got worse as I kept reading on. After a session held in April 2008, the FIBA Central Board came up with several new rule changes that were to be implemented in October 2008, as well as some others in 2010 and 2012, like the one I mentioned above. Granted, some of the rule changes were quite reasonable, but I was very disappointed when I read the section with rule changes that were to be implemented in 2010 and 2012. To make a long story short, those rules are going to bring International basketball to the point where it is almost identical as that which is being played in the NBA (the rule changes are located here).

What has the world come to when FIBA has to start adjusting to the rules of a minority basketball group such as the NBA? Yes, the NBA might be (in the opinion of others) the best league in the world, but that does not have to be a reason for FIBA to get closer to it in terms of rules. I am outraged at the decisions made at that session, because in my opinion, they are threatening the specific character and difference of International basketball. I have always viewed the different rules as a blessing; a sign that shows that basketball is not dominated by some Americans from overseas; a sort of banner which International basketball is holding up to the NBA saying: “We play our own game, which is better than yours!” This was always proved by the fact that all of the global Championships that included the US as a participant were held using FIBA rules. And now, FIBA has given in to the American style of basketball. And I think we should all be frustrated as well as concerned.

I never said that because of this, people will start to play American basketball. Hopefully, Europe and the rest of the world will retain that difference which has always made us special in the field of basketball. But I do believe that this is a kind of sign of FIBAs weakness. Look at it this way: American Football and Rugby have always been different in almost every single way. Though one might argue that these two are completely different sports, they are both essentially the same when it comes down to the core of both games. What would happen if the World Rugby Association (I don’t know the specific name) suddenly changed to the rules to make it look more like the NFL? I bet you the English, French and Aussies would be terribly angry just like I am in this situation. One more concern that this issue raises in my opinion is that over time, we may find ourselves in the situation that we ARE playing American basketball. Though it not likely to happen soon, it may eventually happen if FIBA continues to adjust to the rules of the NBA. And not only will the style of play change, but also the view of the game by fans. We all know that in the US, everyone shouts “Defense!” and other chants which we Europeans find quite boring and utterly girlish. I remember watching a game between Partizan and BroseBaskets, which was held at the latter’s home field in Germany. My father was with me when I was watching it, and when Partizan was making an attack towards the basket, you could hear in the background that the German fans were shouting “Defense, defense!” Both my father and I were utterly disgusted at those chants, because we found them to American-like for a Euroleague match. What happened to the passionate fans which cheered so loudly that the floor would shake, and they could be heard for hundreds of meters, if not several kilometers outside the sports hall they were in? One such game I watched recently was the Top 16 game between Partizan and Panathinaikos, which was for the first time in the history if the Belgrade Arena, held there. A record 22,567 fans came to cheer Partizan to a spectacular victory over PAO, which had no competitive result whatsoever since both teams advanced to the quarterfinals. Nevertheless, the fans incessantly cheered Partizan, sang the club’s songs, as well as rampaging as the ball went through the basket every time, no matter how easy or hard the point was. This I never saw or will see in an NBA game, which I deem as a great shame to the country where the sport was originally invented.

As I come to the conclusion of this rather long essay (longer than I myself expected), I think about whether the rule changes will bring anything positive for the sport. I try to think about whether they will make us even more capable of competing with the like of last year’s US Olympics team. Whether our players will be better off with the new rules in terms of increased skills. The truth is I don’t know. Maybe we will be more competitive in the future, yet at the same time retain our identity as International basketball. Maybe we might just become a second NBA, where players come to entertain a crowd of dull fans with zero defense and flashy dunks and alleyoops. Or maybe something in between? We shall never know, until the time comes, and only then will we see whether FIBA has made a correct choice. All I say is that we should approach these new rules carefully, and try to adjust to them in a way where we won’t become a money-hungry corporation which is to basketball what WWE is to wrestling.

*by Lazar Mišković

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