Let me start off by saying I cannot fault LeBron James or anybody else for competing in the World Basketball Championships. It's an honor and a privilege. And if the U.S. is going to field a team, it might as well be with talented youngsters who still have the bitter taste of the bronze medal finish in the Athens Olympics lingering in their mouths.
The youthful exuberance of LeBron, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade should serve Team USA far better than the been-there, done-that apathy of Tim Duncan, Shaquille O'Neal and Allen Iverson.
But with all that in mind, I have a confession to make: I just don't care about the World Basketball Championships. Not this year, anyway.
Call it carryover from the World Baseball Classic, an event that was as contrived as it was poorly-timed. Or maybe I used up all my patriotic sporting spirit on the World Cup. But for all the ESPN-fueled hype surrounding the basketball championships, I find myself answering "Great. How long until NBA training camp starts?"
To me, as a stereotypical LeBron-fretting Cavs fan, the risk outweighs the reward. It's bad enough when the future of Cleveland basketball goes traipsing off to Greece, a stone's throw from the Middle East, but at least there LeBron and his teammates stayed on an aircraft carrier and were guarded by a security detail that rivaled the President's.
Now, LeBron is flying off to distant points in Asia, behind the tense iron curtain of Communist China, through all kinds of environments with unknown levels of security, crossing paths with people who have unknown disdain for Americans.
And for what? Not even an Olympic medal.
The injury risk, the threat risk, it all seems like too much for what amounts to a tune-up for the 2008 Olympics.
LeBron and Co. can crush the competition this month, win the tournament, and it still won't restore America's alpha-dog status in international basketball. That won't happen until the U.S. wins Olympic gold again, and wins it convincingly.
Am I nail-biting pre-emptively and needlessly? Entirely possible. But to send James, Anthony and Wade -- the centerpieces of three NBA franchises -- overseas to semi-hostile countries to try and win a title that will simply provoke a "let's see you do it for real in two years" response, it just seems like a lot is being paid in for a minimal reward.
But I can't fault the trio of young hoop studs for accepting the challenge. Team USA called, and they're answering the call. It's admirable that they are this enthusiastic.
But why now, why there, and what's really going to be accomplished? Those are my questions.
If the World Basketball Championships floats your boat, cheer on the USA, by all means. Myself, I'll be most excited when it's over.