The United States Men’s National Basketball Team faced reality on the road to Olympic gold this week, losing two consecutive exhibition games to Nigeria and Australia.

But for Mark Tatum, the assistant commissioner and director of operations of the NBA, the losses marked a sort of victory, in the league’s long quest to internationalize basketball.

“The world is improving, and I think that makes basketball a much more appealing game for the world to follow,” Tatum said in an interview on Yahoo Finance Live. “We are happy to see that this level of competition continues to grow and grow. “

Tatum has been instrumental in expanding the league’s reach during his seven years of work, helping establish NBA academies around the world to develop local talent and launching international basketball leagues. .

The opening night roster of the 2020-21 NBA season featured 107 international players from 41 countries. Seven of those players, including Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, play in the NBA Finals.

“The talent has really democratized,” Tatum said.

“These international players don’t just play in the NBA anymore, they are MVPs, the most improved players, the defensive players of the year,” he added, referring to Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic of Serbia. and Rudy Gobert of Utah Jazz de France.

Team USA members have taken note of this. After the loss to Australia, Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard, who topped the United States with 22 points, admitted that the level of talent has been high globally.

“In the past when I saw Team USA win there was a guy on a different team who rotated in the NBA. Then they could have a guy on the bench who’s just part of a team, ”Lillard said in the post-game press conference. “Now you go out there and all the starting five are from NBA teams and rotating players.”

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – JULY 12: Jock Landale # 34 of Australian Boomers guard Bam Adebayo # 13 of the United States during an exhibition match at Michelob Ultra Arena ahead of the Tokyo Olympics on July 12, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Australia defeated the United States 91-83. (Photo by Ethan Miller / Getty Images)

The Australian team that beat the United States included Patty Mills of the San Antonio Spurs, Joe Ingles of the Utah Jazz and Matisse Thybulle of the Philadelphia 76ers.

Nigeria’s roster includes Josh Okogie of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Miye Oni of the Utah Jazz and Chimezie Metu of the Sacramento Kings. Team coach Mike Brown is an assistant to the Golden State Warriors and a former head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The growth of basketball talent outside of the United States may not bode well for the American team in their quest for their 16th Olympic gold. While the United States, along with NBA players, has dominated the Olympics in recent years, the team have gone 1-4 in their last five games facing international competition. This was preceded by an impressive 101-4 record.

The league continued to seize the opportunity, hosting its preseason games abroad, signing international contracts with networks such as Chinese Tencent and expanding its social media presence, where nearly 70 % of his followers are outside the United States.

“Our activity in the world continues to grow, which feeds talent from all of these parts of the world into our league, which makes the league much more attractive to our fans globally,” Tatum said.

Akiko Fujita is a presenter and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @AkikoFujita

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