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Should Basketball Be a Winter Olympic Sport?

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James Naismith invented basketball in 1891 because he needed an activity to entertain his gym class during the harsh Massachusetts winter. Today, professional leagues from the United States to Bulgaria to Taiwan all agree: It's kind of a winter sport.

But I've been watching the Winter Olympics for two weeks and still haven't seen any basketball. So what gives?

IOC bylaws state that, "Only those sports which are practised [sic] on snow or ice are considered as winter sports." So moving basketball to the Winter Games would not only make it stick out like a sore thumb, it would also require some finagling of the rules.

The rules aren't set in stone, though, and in a vacuum there are several reasons both for and against such a change.

But this isn't a vacuum, it's real life. So only two factors would impact a decision like this. Would it generate more money? And how would they split up the pie?

By any metric, the Summer Olympics dwarf their winter counterpart -- more sports, more athletes, more countries, more television viewers, more sponsorship opportunities, more everything.

The Summer Olympics are also -- for reasons not entirely clear -- seemingly willing to change, but not grow. That was the message sent when wrestling was first excluded from the 2020 schedule, and then reinstated at the expense of baseball/softball and squash.

Meanwhile, the Winter Games are growing -- adding 12 new events in 2014 alone. The Summer Olympics can't find space for baseball, but the Winter Games welcome the snowboard parallel slalom.

So moving basketball to the Winter Games could free up space for other deserving sports to find their seat at the Summer Olympic table.

Eighty-eight countries were represented in the Opening Ceremony this year, a record for the Winter Olympics but far below the 205 at the 2012 London Games.

Moving basketball would add just a few new countries to the winter mix. But basketball's presence would elevate viewership in hundreds of nations interested in the sport. And viewership means television advertising, merchandise and revenue.

Plus, fans who tuned in to see LeBron James and Kevin Durant would be exposed to Bjorndalen, Yuzuru Hanyu and some of the other great stories of the Winter Games. This would raise the value of the existing winter slate.

And removing basketball wouldn't diminish summer viewing, as much of the basketball-crazy world would still root on runners, swimmers and cyclists from their home countries.

Basketball alone wouldn't add dramatically to the number of countries participating. But once the ice-and-snow-only sacred cow was felled, other hard court sports could feasibly be candidates to switch as well.

The winter/summer debate could be had over many indoor sports-- badminton, table tennis, wrestling, boxing, judo, taekwondo, fencing and handball to name eight.

But these would be arguments for another day. And while basketball shouldn't have to be tethered to the Summer Games for tradition's sake alone, there's also no impetus to make a major change involving a third of the sports.

Even if basketball defected alone, fans would ask a question far different from whether or not it would be profitable: Would it be more entertaining?

The elephant in the room is that the whole plan would be contingent on the NBA's compliance.

There are a few concerns. Chief among them is that NBA teams would risk their players getting hurt two months before the playoffs. That the NHL takes on this risk is likely irrelevant to NBA executives.

Second, the NBA might not appreciate pressing pause on its season to accommodate the Olympics.

But the NHL allows itself to take a break every four years, and it's likely the added attention will drive viewership to the league this spring. Olympics fans who'd never heard of T.J. Oshie before last Saturday might now be interested in his playoff games.

The third concern is that the players might not be willing to participate if the Olympics were in the middle of the season.

But this may not be the case.

Olympic basketball teams play between five and eight 40-minute games. But top-tier NBA talents often find themselves in blowouts, and no American averaged more than 26 minutes per game in London.

Many players might be happier adding games in the middle of the season, when they're already in game shape, than maintaining peak game shape throughout an entire summer of practices and competition.

Players like Manu Ginobili, Pau Gasol and Russell Westbrook might even stay healthier during the NBA season if they didn't attempt to slog through the 20-month marathon that comes when an Olympic summer is sandwiched between two deep playoff runs.

So a shift might even improve the product on Olympic courts and NBA courts alike.

Moving basketball to the winter Olympics would be a drastic move, with far-reaching implications and many details to work out.

But it could raise the overall entertainment value of the Winter Games, and open doors for new sports in the summer. And the NBA might even have compelling reasons to go along with it.

There's no guarantee it would work, but the IOC might be smart to at least have the conversation. Or, rather, draw up the business plan and think about how to carve that pie.

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