By Jeff Zillgitt, USA TODAY
LONDON – National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter said he doesn't know if the men's Olympic basketball competition will become a 23-and-under event.
But some NBA players "are supporting and enamored with the idea of playing in the Olympics," Hunter told USA TODAY Sports in a phone interview Friday.
Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant called the idea to go to 23-and-under for the Olympics "stupid." Other Olympic players have defended the current all-ages format.
"Whatever the players decide, that's what I'll end up supporting," Hunter said. "They don't want anybody being able to dictate whether they can or cannot do that."
But even if the players want to keep the age rule the way it is, it doesn't mean it will remain that way. There are too many voices and too many dollars at stake for it to be that simple.
Hunter, who is on USA Basketball's board of directors, stressed that the players will have a voice in any discussions.
"If the players express concern, I can assure you that their concerns are going to be heard and seriously considered," Hunter said.
The movement to put an age restriction on the event stems from two main factors: NBA owners' concerns over potential injuries to players and the potential partnership between the NBA and FIBA to create a profitable World Cup event.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has been a critic of NBA players participating in the Olympics.
The topic has been broached often since the NBA Finals, and NBA Commissioner David Stern told USA TODAY Sports last week that no decision has been made and that it's time to revisit the issue, 20 years after the Dream Team's gold medal victory in Barcelona.
Stern said it wasn't an urgent issue, a point Hunter echoed Friday. Hunter said he saw Stern two days ago, and Hunter said it's too early in the process to predict what will happen. There are no meetings planned to discuss it.
"Clearly, because it would impact our players, there would be input from the union," Hunter said. "There's been no discussion yet. If in fact that's something that they're planning to effectuate, they have to sit down and come to the table with the players."
USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo wants to initiate formal talks shortly after the Olympics. He needs to begin planning for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. Not only does he need to start eyeing potential players, he also needs to sell USA Basketball for potential endorsement dollars.
"I have confidence in my ability to sell. I just need to know what I'm selling first," Colangelo told USA TODAY Sports. "There is the talk of potential change. It may or may not happen. The real question is: If it does happen, when does it happen and what are the circumstances in which it takes place.
"I plan to have a lot of conversations on this topic right after the Olympics. There are some informal conversations that will take place in London but on a formal basis when the Olympics are behind us."
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