Parker, France and the 2010 FIBA Worlds

13 01 2010

The FIBA World Championships is an international basketball tournament held every four years by the International Basketball Federation. For most people outside of the United States, its importance eclipses that of the Olympic Games’ basketball tournament.

Today, Tony Parker told reporters that he may forgo playing in the 2010 FIBA World Championships in Istanbul, Turkey. Here are a few quotes from Parker…

“I just think I’ve played too much basketball,” Parker said to nba.com.

“I’ve played five summers in a row, and I think it’s about time I need a rest.

“It’s going to be tough. The contract’s coming up, and Pop wants me to play well every night.

“Sometimes it’s tough because you know you play all these championship runs and every year I play for the national team. Every year.

“This year is the first year I’ve found my body is a little bit tired, you know?

“So I’ll have to make some decisions, because I’m not Superman.

“I can’t do 82 games at the level Pop wants, and then play on the national team.”

Whenever a professional basketball player abstains from ancillary play, the critics come out in droves. Here’s a quote from a fan of USA Basketball’s Facebook page:

“Need to rest”…these players get spoiled.What more could a player want than to represent his Country? I haven’t had a vacation in 5 years,yet I still work hard at my job and my business.I believe that all of us would love to play all year whatever sport we love and get paid so well we can be financially independent at 30.Please professional players,save your excuses and go play.

This fan first asks, “what more could a player want than to represent his country?” Tony Parker has been representing France on the basketball court since 1997, when he was 15 years old. Parker played on the Under-16, Under-18 and Under-20 before moving onto his country’s senior national team. He has been the captain of the French senior national team since 2003. By all accounts, he has been very  much involved in France’s official basketball program for all of his adolescent and adult life. (Parker was even involved in Paris’ bid for the 2012 Olympic Games and was the first ambassador for Make-A-Wish France.)

A more appropriate question is “what more could a player do to represent his country?”

The Facebook fan then seems to trivialize Parker’s work ethic by saying “I haven’t had a vacation in 5 years, yet I still work hard at my job and my business.” This comment betrays a lack of understanding for how much dedication it takes to achieve success at the highest level of a commercially-viable sport. They seem to believe that the physical and mental demands on a high-profile athlete is comparable to their work struggles, since they work 10 hours a day.

Lots of casual fans seem to believe that the NBA (and other professional sports leagues) is filled with spoiled, lackadaisical athletic freaks who have all happened onto a high-paying job. A player of Parker’s stature has put a considerable amount of work into his trade and any fan would be misguided if they dismissed this fact.

The Facebook fan then seems to be making a connection between Parker’s financial position and his duty in representing his country. This particular fan is lucky enough to presumably own a computer and purchase access to the internet. Since these are luxurious afforded to him, should this fan have considered donating his internet budget to a trivial, sports-related, nationalistic cause?

The accompanying argument I hear a lot is “Athlete X is a great basketball player. He should be playing every year for the national team.” The rationale is that if a person has the capability to do a physical act, they should do that act since others cannot.

Here is an analogy: since some people do not have the use of their legs, a physically capable person should be obliged to run a marathon every year for their country. Granted, this is somewhat brash and hyperbolic but the spirit of the argument is the same. Since others cannot, capable people should do it whenever possible.

It can be argued that Tony Parker has contributed more to French basketball than any person in the last 10 years. Even if you take his visibility into account, I think he’s done his fair share. Why are clearly-dedicated players lambasted  when they take a year off from international play?

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