European Championship Stirs Up The International Scene

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Thank God for streetball and the Euro franchises. Basketball news had started to trickle to a crawl, only occasionally sputtering out blurbs on how little the lockout negotiations are progressing, and which ex-NBA player has been arrested recently. Those who were worried about losing momentum only needed to look at their RSS feeds to confirm their worst fears.

But we’re starting to come out of the woods a little bit. Now we have the Euro championship. Basketball as a professional league has a lot of glamour and glitz to begin with, and it fits right in with continental romance. The European basketball championship has given us our basketball narratives back.

Last Sunday, Pau Gasol led Spain against France, and clobbered them 96-69, the kind of decisive victory that will have Napoleon rolling in his grave. Meanwhile, Joakim Noah is getting as injured as he did in the last season, and had to sit the game out, leaving a Noah-sized hole in France’s defenses that Spain exploited.

What stinks is that Nowitzski and Germany are out of the Euro Championship now, which robs us of another historic Nowitzski / Gasol match-up. If Germany had managed to beat Lithuania and move into the quarters, it would have given Gasol the opportunity of a lifetime to avenge the Lakers.

God, it feels good to write that. Does it feel good to read it? We’ve got basketball to watch and think about again. It may happen half a world away (depending on where you’re reading this) but we’ve got it.

A lot of media attention in the past few months was focused on players going over to Europe, even those who don’t have a direct tie to their homelands like Gasol, Noah and Nowitzski.

But not everyone is happy about these NBA champions playing overseas in their native countries. Remember, one of the biggest naysayers was Charles Barkley, who said, “Well, I think it would be a mistake for Derrick Rose to go overseas. I think any great player has got too much at stake. You could go there and hurt yourself…If you are as great as Derrick Rose, why would you risk your NBA career and contract by going overseas? I just don’t think that’s very smart.”

Barkely’s opinion is especially pertinent now, in the light of Joakim Noah potentially doing a painful retread of last season’s injury count. If you muck yourself up in France, you screw yourself over for when the NBA season starts again.

Former Magic guard Penny Hardaway also made waves in a July interview with the Orlando Sentinel, saying, “It’s definitely not a good look. It’s not a good look because it means you’re not caring about what’s going on over here, you’re just gonna go and make money.”

Which is a fair point, but not one that I necessarily agree with. For tradesmen like NBA players, regularly practicing your game is better than, say, picketing. And it gives owners a glance at what options the players have.

There are pro-Euro people out there too. I’ve talked before about how Slam Online’s Chris Haynes has made the argument that players should be going across the big blue rather than streetballing. I didn’t agree with him at the time, as I felt (and still do) that streetball is, in its own way, more authentic and valuable than the big, international games, but I think he has a decent point about those who decided to head to Europe.

Haynes wrote, “The player gets to be involved in a structured environment, play meaningful games and have the luxury of being secure from the public to a certain extent. Of course there still will be risks involved such as getting injured, but if these agents have their clients best interest at heart— keyword if—the noble thing to do would be to save some players from themselves and send them abroad.”

Hayne’s article was a bit of a finger-wagging tirade against the hotheads of the NBA (hence the talk about saving players from themselves), but he’s right about European games being a good environment for players’ growth. As long as they aren’t getting too hurt.

Basketball writers and analysts are always looking at the big picture. That’s how narratives are created: we look at how players performed in early games compared to later games, and try to extrapolate how the player will perform in the future.

Players are also fragile: athletes are subjected to all kinds of stress and the potential for injury. When they’re playing over and over, for long periods of time, they tend to get hurt. They’re like the good china: you want to keep them in perfect condition and only bring them out when it’s a special occasion.

But it’s good to see Gasol in great form, bouncing back from the Lakers tragedy to help Spain move forward in the Euro championships. It’s good to see games on such an enormous scale as international championships. The NBA operates in a bit of a bubble, geography-wise, and it’s neat to see the game we love taken to a continental scale. It’s exciting to be able to cover the European finals, and to see these big ancient countries duke it out on an international area.

I’m looking forward to what the future will bring. What do you guys think?

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