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ULEB President Van den Spiegel: ''National teams can be drivers of the game's popularity globally''
XI'AN - National teams, clubs and leagues. They can form a wonderful synergy that boosts the sport of basketball, from player development to growing the game commercially.
The better the league competition, the better the coaching at clubs, and the stronger the commitment to helping home-grown players improve, the better it will be for a country's national team when it competes in tournaments during the summer or in qualifying games.
Likewise, when a national team plays and does especially well, it boosts the sport in many ways.
At the FIBA World Basketball Summit, ULEB (Union of European Leagues of Basketball) President Tomas Van den Spiegel talked about the importance of national teams.
ULEB's membership consists of the professional basketball leagues of Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Russia and Spain.
"We (ULEB) really are in favor of the national teams because they can be drivers of the game's popularity globally," he said. "The leagues are convinced of that. They understand that releasing players to the national team is very important and helps them develop commercially and to be successful in the coming years."
A player being chosen to compete for the national team is a proud moment not only for him or her, but also for the club and its fans.
In recent times, for example, Spain's Pau Gasol and USA stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving all reached new heights in their careers when leading their countries to the top of the podium at the 2006, 2010 and 2014 editions of the FIBA Basketball World Cup respectively. Each was named as the tournament's MVP.
Before that, in 2004, basketball's popularity in Argentina soared to new heights as a result of its national team, led by Manu Ginobili, winning the gold medal at the Athens Olympics.
Long before that, in 1987, Greece's national team had a stunning success when they hosted the FIBA EuroBasket and Nikos Galis led them to the title. That unexpected triumph created a wave of basketball euphoria in the country but also fueled more interest in the sport all over Europe.
"WE REALLY ARE IN FAVOR OF THE NATIONAL TEAMS BECAUSE THEY CAN BE DRIVERS OF THE GAME'S POPULARITY GLOBALLY. THE LEAGUES ARE CONVINCED OF THAT. THEY UNDERSTAND THAT RELEASING PLAYERS TO THE NATIONAL TEAM IS VERY IMPORTANT AND HELPS THEM DEVELOP COMMERCIALLY AND TO BE SUCCESSFUL IN THE COMING YEARS."
Van den Spiegel, who wore the jersey of European giants CSKA Moscow and Real Madrid, also represented Belgium. While he did not get a chance to take part in a FIBA Basketball World Cup, he cited the event as a potential highlight in a player's career.
"Every player wants to be at the World Cup," he said. "Everyone wants to play for the national team, to defend their colors."
The upcoming FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 stands out from past editions as it will be the culmination of a two-year qualification period that began in November 2017, when FIBA launched a new era with the implementation of the FIBA National Team Competitions System & Calendar.
The World Cup Qualifiers have been played in windows held at regular intervals. The sixth and final window takes place next month, when 24 teams will battle for the remaining 14 spots on offer to play in the first-ever 32-team edition of FIBA's flagship competition.
Whether it's for a pivotal game at a top level world competition, a qualifying game or even a friendly, national team games can always bring together fans, who put aside the differences they have as supporters of rival clubs, in order to fully back the country.
Tomas Van den Spiegel
For Van den Spiegel, it's important to have an integrated calendar so clubs, leagues and national teams can all benefit.
"We (ULEB) believe in an integrated calendar with room for local leagues to develop commercially and from a sporting perspective," he said.
"At the same time, we see space for a continental (club) competition and maybe more than one," he said. "And of course, for national teams because they remain the driver of the popularity of our sport in many markets."
Van Den Spiegel's message about the huge value of the national team game to the growth of the sport is echoed by Zhu Fangyu, a three-time Olympian with China who reached the Quarter-Finals of the Summer Games twice (2004 and 2008) and also competed at two World Cups (2002 and 2006) and now serves as the CEO of Guangdong Winnerway Basketball Club in China's CBA.
At the FIBA World Basketball Summit, he took part in the same panel discussion with Van den Spiegel and highlighted the importance of the national team in his country, and the impact that the upcoming World Cup will have on China, the country's top league, the Chinese Basketball Association, and the popularity of basketball in the Far East.
"The Chinese league is connected closely to our national team players and Chinese basketball fans," Zhu said.
"The 2008 Olympic Games (in Beijing) is an excellent example to show that we have the ability to hold such a large event. It showed how Chinese fans supported sports, how clubs supported our national team and all of us were of one mind.
"The benefits the World Cup will have on the basketball culture in China can be on a par with the 2008 Olympic Games."
Zhu stressed that the World Cup - and the performances of hosts China - will have a huge impact on the state of the game across the country well after the competition concludes in Beijing on September 15.
"In China, if basketball wants to attract more supporters, especially more young fans, the achievement of the national team is crucial," he pointed out. "In my opinion, compared with two years ago, players in the Chinese national team have made great progress. We hope they can show their very best at the World Cup.
“The Chinese league, including the Chinese Basketball Association and the CBA company, will benefit from the World Cup. I wish for the FIBA Basketball World Cup in China to be the most successful World Cup."