US basketball stars slam plan for Olympic youth movement
By Ian Whittell ,AFP
July 19, 2012, 12:18 am TWN
MANCHESTER, United Kingdom -- Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul, two of the most high-profile NBA players on the USA team, have added their voices to the growing opposition to proposals by their league that veteran players should not be allowed to feature in future Olympic Games.
NBA Commissioner David Stern, with the urging of the league's owners, has suggested that after London 2012 the basketball tournament will follow the format of Olympic soccer and allow only players aged 23 and under to play.
The large number of absentees from the current USA Olympic team through injury has added fuel to the movement and the loss only last week of LA Clippers forward Blake Griffin to a knee injury was interpreted in some quarters as signaling the end of the 20-year practice of NBA players appearing at the Olympics.
Bryant, a veteran with the Los Angeles Lakers and an Olympic champion in 2008, is openly opposed to the proposal, however, and left little room for doubt about how strong are his convictions.
"It's a stupid idea. It should be a (player's) choice," said Bryant, speaking at Manchester Town Hall ahead of the USA's Olympic friendly game against Great Britain on Thursday.
"The Olympics is really about putting the best athletes out there to compete against the best. From a basketball standpoint, it would lessen the Olympics, absolutely.
"I don't think they really discuss it much with us, we just discuss it like this, we kind of voice our opinions through you guys (media).
"We talk about it among ourselves. It's just a dumb idea."
Bryant did not hesitate to pledge his commitment to the USA's bid to retain their Olympic title and he has an instant retort to the suggestion that NBA owners are merely looking to protect the health of their players by proposing the change.
"No, it's to protect their investments," he said. "When you look at guys who are injured here, they have treatment around the clock. We have the best training staff, we have the professional coaches who are here monitoring us."
"If our owners or NBA coaches want to contact us and see how we're doing, they can easily come to practice, they can easily talk to the training staff — as opposed to guys disappearing for the summer, coming back overweight and not knowing where they are.
"We're playing pick-up basketball anyway and if you get injured, you don't have a trainer on staff.
"If I was an owner, I'd much rather my players played on the USA Olympic team. It's much better than playing against a bunch of bums."
Paul, a team mate of Bryant's in their 2008 Olympic triumph, had a minor thumb injury during the USA's training camp in Las Vegas last week, but has reported himself fully fit after appearing in warm-up victories over the Dominican Republic and Brazil.
The point guard also shares Bryant's unequivocal support for NBA players appearing in the games.
"I'm thankful they haven't thought about that now," said Paul. "If that was the case, I wouldn't be able to play now. I'm 27 years old.
"I personally would like for it to be your own decision because playing in an Olympics, this will be my second, is the greatest experience of my life. I like having the option.
"If you look at the track record for it, I can honestly say my best season in the NBA statistically was the 2008-09 season which was after my first Olympics."