Curry, Lillard, other NBA players unsure about suiting up for Olympics
“Honestly, I have no idea.”
That was Stephen Curry’s answer when asked if he is going to play in the Tokyo Olympics starting next July. Curry has never played in an Olympics and has openly talked about his desire to add a gold medal to his Hall of Fame resume. However, playing in Tokyo, right on the heels of an upended NBA season (and before another one starts in October), has Curry hesitating to commit.
Curry’s response was typical of players asked about this.
“Very open-ended question and I have no idea. That’s my best answer,” said Curry.
“I don’t know 100 percent,” Portland’s Damian Lillard said. “We’ll see what that looks like. That’s around my birthday [July 15]. Hopefully, we’re in the Finals, but if we go to the Finals and win it, I ain’t playing. If we win the Finals, I’m not playing the Olympics, but we’ll see.”
No player asked around the league was willing to commit to playing in Tokyo.
Nobody should blame the players considering the NBA schedule in front of them: A tight turnaround between last season and the one about to tip-off Dec. 22, that’s a 72-game season and playoffs where Game 7 of the NBA Finals is scheduled for July 22 and the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremonies are set for July 23. The next offseason for NBA players will also be shortened as the league works to get back on its traditional October-to-June schedule.
That doesn’t even touch on the COVID-19 concerns and protocols that will come with the Olympics — those have yet to be announced by the IOC — which could have some athletes taking a step back.
USA Basketball named its 44 finalists for the 12-man Olympic roster back before the coronavirus pandemic upended life as we know it. What players will still want to take part in the games remains to be seen.
But the timing does not help with recruiting.
“The scenario, as it stands right now, does seem problematic,” U.S. head coach Gregg Popovich said of the NBA schedule and start of the Olympics. “The timing does make everything difficult and will demand some real soul-searching and out-of-the-box type of thinking to put together the best team we possibly can.”
Based on last year’s plans (when the Tokyo Games were set to start July 22), USA Basketball will open its training camp around July 1 in Las Vegas. The NBA regular season is scheduled to end May 16. That means players whose teams miss the playoffs or are bounced in the first round would be far more likely to compete than players whose teams make a deep postseason run.
Even without players from the final four or eight teams in the NBA playoffs, USA Basketball can put together an impressive roster because of our nation’s deep talent pool. It will be much more difficult for players such as France’s Rudy Gobert, Spain’s Marc Gasol, or Argentina’s Facundo Campazzo, and many others to skip the games no matter how deep their clubs go in the playoffs — those nations do not have the depth to easily replace their stars.
Players from those other nations also are non-committal right now. Canada’s Jamal Murray said he would talk about the Tokyo Olympics after the NBA playoffs ended. Golden State’s Andrew Wiggins was equally vague.
“I don’t know,” Wiggins said. “I’m going to cross that bridge when I get to it.”
Canada still has to qualify for the Olympics through a play-in tournament running June 29-July 4 (other international powers, such as Serbia, also need to qualify). Those play-in games are while NBA playoffs are in full swing. NBA player participation in that tournament may be less likely than the Olympics themselves.
The United States has already qualified. That has Popovich and USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo thinking about how to make this work.
“The Olympics is always on my mind, just as Coach K told me it would be,” Popovich said, referring to former USA coach Mike Krzyzewski. “You can’t get away from it. So, this scenario, as it stands right now, does seem problematic in the sense that organizing things and figuring out who’s going to be part of the team is yet to be determined.”
And what if Popovich’s Spurs team is playing in a Game 7 of the NBA Finals the night before the Tokyo Opening Ceremonies?
“I don’t think we’re going to let the Finals go seven games. We’ll get them before that,” Popovich said.