It’s safe to say at this point that the USA men’s basketball team has not lived up to its expectations. The team consists of some of the best players in the world, and yet, despite the abundance of talent, Team USA continues to fall short against lesser opponents. No matter what head coach Gregg Popovich says about “showing respect to the other teams,” when all but three players on your team have been an NBA All-Star at least once (Keldon Johnson, JaVale McGee, and Jerami Grant being the exceptions), yet you still manage to lose to Evan Fournier and Patty Mills, you’re going to draw a lot of criticism. It doesn’t matter how little practice time your team had or how many people opted to sit out the Olympics after initially committing, you have the most talent in the world. You should win these games.
So, why isn’t Team USA winning these games? Are there chemistry issues? Not as far as anyone can tell. Were the players not given enough rest after the NBA playoffs before heading to Tokyo? Absolutely, but there are several NBA players participating for different nations such as Joe Ingles (France), Rudy Gobert (France), Precious Achiuwa (Nigeria), Patty Mills (Australia), and Danilo Gallinari (Italy), who all seem to be doing just fine despite participating in the NBA playoffs.
Reports have emerged, though, indicating that officiating might have something to do with Team USA’s struggles.
Per Yahoo Sports, several Team USA players including Jayson Tatum and Bradley Beal, have stared down officials after no-calls that likely would have been called in the NBA. While no members of Team USA has stated their discontent with these Olympic officials publicly, their mannerisms on the court speak volumes.
NBA players are obviously used to getting the call on moves like the one above, and this one down below.
There are several other examples of these “no-calls”, and it makes me think: “Geez, NBA refs really do give their star players preferential treatment, huh?”
The NBA giving its top players preferential treatment has long been a not-so-secret piece of knowledge. Players like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, James Harden, and LeBron James have all seen their fair share of calls go their way. A 2019 study by The Ringer showed that NBA superstars (classified by having 6 or more All-Star appearances) were over 20 percent more likely to get calls in their favor compared to other NBA players. While those same superstars are also more likely to receive disadvantageous calls on offense as well, the difference between superstars and non-superstars in that regard is just 3.9 percent.
All this goes to show that the players participating in the Olympics are definitely used to getting those questionable calls when they drive into the lane. While other factors have certainly played a role in Team USA’s underwhelming performance thus far, such as lack of rest between the NBA playoffs and Olympics as well as FIBA basketball rules that the NBA doesn’t follow (i.e.: being able to knock a ball away from the hoop after it touches the rim — a rule that came into effect during Team USA’s exhibition loss to Nigeria), officiating has definitely played a part as well.
This isn’t a good look for the NBA. Several basketball fans have already expressed their appreciation for how the Olympic referees are calling the games.
Obviously, the NBA’s popularity is built on the back of its superstars. Fans would not want to attend games if they know their favorite players will foul out before the start of the fourth quarter. FIBA doesn’t care about this. They care about determining the best team in the world. Despite the United States still being favorites to win the gold medal (-250), they are clearly not the best team in the world right now. Once they stop relying on the referees to bail them out on plays with minimal contact, maybe they’ll be able to retake their crown.