Kevin Durant

In case you missed it, there are two World Cups next year — and the good news is, the United States actually has a chance to win one of them! The 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup (formerly World Championship) takes place in Spain next summer, and, due to the United States’ preference for sending its “A” squad only to the Olympics, the assumption was that the World Cup roster would resemble the up-and-coming “B” squad sent to Turkey in 2010 — an assumption derived from the fact that none of the 2008 Beijing gold medalists competed on the 2010 team.

That meant it was safe to assume nobody on the 2012 London gold medal team would wear the Stars & Stripes in 2014. Well, so much for that notion. Today, two of the headliners of the 2010 team that won gold in Turkey (and gold in London), Kevin Durant and Kevin Love, appeared in Las Vegas to announce their intent to play in Spain next year. This is much-welcomed news, as their participation is important for a few reasons:

  1. The United States puts an emphasis on the Olympics (sending the aforementioned “A” squad), while the rest of the world covets the World Cup to a much higher degree. It’s also a much bigger tournament: 24 teams, as opposed to only 12 in the Olympics. The more experience on the roster, the better.
  2. The host country also happens to be Team USA’s biggest (and, really, only) rival. Spain may be running out of steam, as some of its top players aren’t getting any younger, but as we saw in 2010, the energy boost of playing in front of a home crowd is a very real factor (unless, of course, you’re Team USA, it’s 2002, your coach is George Karl, and this is your roster). Again, having veterans of two international competitions will help tremendously.
  3. Also, Spain will be out for revenge after two hotly-contested Olympic gold medal games (2008, 2012). Their last World Championship performance was a forgettable quarterfinal exit in Turkey in 2010, but they weren’t 100% healthy (Pau Gasol wasn’t even on the roster, and Marc Gasol wasn’t Marc Gasol quite yet), so they get a bit of a pass there. This may be their last run, so to speak, as Pau will be 36 years old when the 2016 Olympics roll around.

Durant and Love’s participation is, arguably, the culmination of Jerry Colangelo’s vision when he was assigned to overhaul the national team program after the 2004 Olympic debacle. He asked for commitments from top players, and almost every one of them has responded above and beyond the call of duty. (Examples: LeBron James could become a three-time Olympic gold medalist if he follows through on his word to participate in Brazil. This after playing in 2004 and in the 2006 World Championship. In the same vein, Durant and Love could have two World Cup golds and two Olympic golds by the end of 2016.)

Yet, while everyone in the program is “committed”, nobody would have criticized players who had played in multiple FIBA tournaments for sitting out a tournament the United States doesn’t hold in high regard (at least, historically). And, barring injury, Durant and Love were almost assuredly going to be on the 2016 roster. But Durant and Love represent the new era of USA Basketball. An era that boasts a great sense of pride in wearing the Red, White and Blue — a million-mile departure from the dreadful early aughts, when players stumbled over each other in search of the best excuses not to play.

Also, this will be the last FIBA World Cup on the four-year cycle. It will switch to a five-year cycle (the next tournament will be held in 2019 — no word on if Durant and Love will participate, of course) in order to avoid future conflicts with that other World Cup.