From August 29-September 8, the 14th FIBA World Basketball Championship for Men is taking place in Indianapolis, Indiana, marking the first time in 52 years that the tournament will be held in the United States. This 16-team tournament is an event of FIBA, the governing body for international basketball, and features countries representing Africa, Asia, Europe, Oceania and the Americas. Since its start in 1950, the World Basketball Championship is held every four years. It is the most competitive and prestigious tournament in international basketball, and it is a great honour for participating athletes to represent their countries.

Why NBA Players Can Participate

Before the 1992 Olympic Games, NBA players could not participate in international competition. Teams other than the U.S., however, featured players who were veteran pro athletes, such as legendary Brazilian scorer Oscar Schmidt who played professionally in Italy. After the 1998 Games, FIBA Secretary-General Boris Stankovic felt a change was needed.

Stankovic offered two reasons for the change. First, "Our competition was closed to the NBA players, but no one else. That seems immoral," said Stankovic. "The second is very simple. Our feeling is that only by playing with the best players in the world can everyone else make progress. If you are from another country and you can run a race against Carl Lewis, maybe you don't have a chance. But you still want to run."

In 1989, FIBA voted to allow NBA players to participate in international competition, giving NBA players from around the world the chance to compete for their countries.

Once the rules were adjusted, the NBA joined USA Basketball, and NBA players began to represent the U.S. in the Olympics and World Championship. The U.S. Dream Team, led by NBA legends Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, debuted at the 1992 Olympics where it won the gold medal and spurred an enormous boost in popularity for basketball on a global basis.

NBA Presence at the 2002 Worlds

Dirk Nowitzki
Nowitzki's scoring and rebounding skills are a welcome addition to the German team.
Rocky Widner
NBAE/Getty Images

There will be a distinct NBA presence on many of the teams participating in the 2002 World Championship.

Assist-Makers and Sharpshooters:

Argentina won the silver medal at the 2001 Goodwill Games led by former NBA forward Ruben Wolkowyski, who can score inside and out, and former NBA guard Pepe Sanchez. Sanchez is the consummate point guard, protecting the ball, creating for his teammates and wreaking havoc in the passing lanes.

Big Men:

China places its medal hopes on its big frontline, which features the Denver Nuggets' Mengke Bateer and the top pick in the 2002 NBA Draft, 7-foot-5 centre Yao Ming.

Yugoslavia has an imposing group of forwards in Sacramento teammates Predrag Stojakovic and Vlade Divac, and Seattle's Predrag Drobnjak and Vladimir Radmanovic. Stojakovic was an NBA All-Star in 2002; Divac in 2001. Yugoslavia's young forwards have shown the ability to run the court and shoot from long range.

The Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki brings his offensive firepower to the German team. Nowitzki had an outstanding 2002 season, being named to the All-NBA Second Team and selected to his first NBA All-Star Game.

Versatile Swingmen:

In international competition, many teams play zone defence. When playing against zones, teams with versatile offensive big men, such as Hidayet Turkoglu (Turkey), Andrei Kirilenko (Russia) and Oscar Torres (Venezuela), can be effective by playing inside, passing over the defence and draining three-point shots from long range.

NBA Teammates, Worlds Opponents:

Ex-Raptors players Sean Marks of New Zealand and Carlos Arroyo of Puerto Rico aspire to reach the heights of their former teammate, Vince Carter, who led the U.S. in scoring en route to the gold medal at the 2000 Olympic Games. Carter's Raptors teammate, Antonio Davis, will play for the U.S. team aiming to capture gold in 2002.

Antonio Davis
A.D. is a solid inside presence for the U.S.
Ron Turenne
NBAE/Getty Images

Hoosier State:

Indiana has a well-known history of collegiate and professional basketball. Many successful NBA players, including Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas and Glenn Robinson, began their hoops careers in Indiana.

The Worlds' host city has a presence on the U.S. team, which features current Pacers Reggie Miller and Jermaine O'Neal, and former Pacer Antonio Davis.

Miller has an impressive record in international play, having won gold at the 1994 Worlds and 1996 Olympics. In 1994, Miller shot a sizzling 53 per cent from the three-point line, averaging 17.1 points, second only to Shaquille O'Neal's 18 points per game. In 1996, Miller was again the second leading scorer (11.4 PPG), making more than a third of his team's three-point shots. Miller's value increases with the closer international three-point line, as many teams play zone defence and double-team low-post players. Miller routinely makes opposing teams pay for double-teaming by draining three-pointers.

The Rest of the World is Catching Up

As Stankovic predicted, " . . . only by playing with the best players in the world can everyone else make progress." Other basketball superpowers are quickly gaining on the U.S. and some insiders feel that 2002 may be the first time that the U.S. team could suffer a loss with a team made up of NBA players.

At the 2000 Olympics, while facing Lithuania in the semifinals, the U.S. had to come back in the game's final minute and a half to win by two, 85-83. Lithuania missed a desperation three-pointer to lose the game.

At the 2001 Goodwill Games, Brazil came back from a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit to tie its game with the U.S. at 90-90 with less than a minute to play. With 16 seconds left and the chance to win the game, Brazil never got a shot off, thanks to tight defence from the Hornets' Baron Davis. Though the Brazilians eventually lost, they proved themselves to be worthy opponents to their American counterparts.