The NBA season is only a few months away and 12 men will return to their respective teams this fall with an Olympic gold medal to their name.
Last week, the USA Men’s Basketball team finished their Olympic schedule a perfect 8-0 paired with a gold medal for the third-consecutive time, and won gold for the sixth time in the last seven Olympics.
The feat came as no surprise — even without many of the nation’s best players on the roster, the men’s team was ranked No. 1 in the world by FIBA before heading to Rio and were heavy favorites to win the top prize.
But that’s exactly why winning an Olympic gold — and I’d like to clarify by saying I’m speaking strictly in terms of men’s basketball — isn’t as big an achievement as winning an NBA title.
The reality of the NBA is that it’s the highest level of professional basketball and is filled with the best players in the world, not just in the country.
Players from various nations have moved overseas to compete in the NBA, and many have successfully changed the game for the better.
That being said, when an NBA team competes for an NBA title every season, they are competing against some of the best players from around the globe and around the country, against talent that goes unmatched in any other basketball league anywhere else in the world.
Winning an NBA title means a team has successfully put together a successful season against the best talent the world has to offer.
Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan disputed this when he told reporters last week that he thought winning gold medals are more significant than winning NBA titles.
“I think they’re above NBA rings,” he said to ESPN while in Rio. “I may get in trouble for saying that, but I believe that.
“I feel like this is more special. You’re not just playing teams in the U.S., you’re playing teams from all over the world. And this is even more special because there’s an NBA champion crowned every year, but this is every four years.”
While Jordan makes a solid point, the teams that Team USA faced in the Olympics this year were filled with NBA talent, demonstrating the effect the league has on other nations.
Spain were carried by former NBA champion Pau Gasol, and got a lot of help from other NBA players like Jose Calderon, Ricky Rubio, and Nikola Mirotic. That core helped them climb to No. 2 on the FIBA rankings and win a Bronze medal in the 2016 Olympics.
And when China’s Yi Jianlian showed dominance against Team USA and others, he got a call from the Los Angeles Lakers to join the NBA and bring his talents into a league of talent unmatched anywhere else.
That’s not to say an Olympic gold isn’t a significant achievement; it certainly is.
But with Team USA as stacked as it is, there is an awful large margin for error before consequence. That’s why it was such a shock that the team didn’t take home gold in 2004.
It’s more a surprise when the U.S. doesn’t take home gold, than when it does.
Carmelo Anthony, a respected and renowned NBA superstar, has been on Team USA for their last three gold medals and is now the first U.S. Men’s basketball player to own a trio.
But he doesn’t have an NBA title to his name, and when his legacy is viewed years from now, he will be remembered more for the lack of titles than influx of golds. Unless the newly-formed New York Knicks gel together and become contenders in the next few seasons, Anthony may never get the chance to compete for a ring that has so far eluded him.
It takes a full team effort to win an NBA title. From role players, to bench players, to starters, to superstars, every man needs to be at his best for a team to win 16 games in the postseason after a draining 82-game season.
That long schedule is another reason winning an NBA title is a more significant achievement — a team must be first-rate for 98 games over the course of nearly nine months. An Olympic team only needs to get hot for eight games over the course of two weeks.
My sincerest congratulations to Team USA, truly, on winning another Olympic gold. It was an accomplishment, albeit an expected one like graduating high school.
Through the rigor of the NBA season comes a competition unlike anything else, and one more significant than anything else as well.