The fallout from COVID-19 may have a lingering impact on Canadian basketball fans for next summer’s Olympic Qualifying tournament in Victoria.
With COVID-19 postponing the last few months of the 2019-20 NBA regular season and playoffs, the league has been forced to shift their upcoming season to begin in December, at the earliest.
This will result in next year’s NBA Finals running into the month of June, the same month that Victoria is slated to host the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament – Canada’s last chance to secure a berth in men’s basketball at the Tokyo Olympics.
Miami Heat forward and South Kamloops Secondary graduate, Kelly Olynyk, feels this could have an impact on whether or not Canadian NBA players choose to compete in the tournament or not.
“It’ll probably line up with guys who don’t make the playoffs. Obviously, you don’t want to be on one of those teams…but it’ll be really tough for guys to play in that, especially if you start in December. And who knows – it might not even be December,” said Olynyk.
Olynyk has been one of the few NBA staples on the Canadian national team over the last few years, but a slew of young talent had already committed to playing for Team Canada in the qualifying tournament, which was scheduled for this summer prior to the pandemic hitting.
That NBA talent included Denver Nuggets star Jamal Murray, along with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Dillon Brooks, Dwight Powell, Khem Birch and up-and-coming rookie R.J. Barrett.
Almost all of those names, including Olynyk, play for teams currently holding a playoff position this season.
Olynyk, who was in a contract year, had yet to commit to playing for Canada in Victoria this summer.
“Often the reason why guys can’t play is because they don’t have a contract,” the 29-year-old from said when Miami was in Toronto earlier this season. “It’s not easy to walk into one of those things and put your career on the line. As much as you want to, and as much as you know you’d love to do it, it’s tough. It’s really tough to do.”
Now players in contract years, as well as the scheduling conflict, will be working against the Victoria Olympic Qualifier slated for June 29-July 4, 2021.
The tournament will be held before free agency officially begins next season as well.
“You’ve got to look at your career and your livelihood and your earning potential or your earning window or whatever you want to call it,” Olynyk said Friday. “Those are definitely factors. You need that security in your life.”
The scheduling changes as a result of COVID-19 doesn’t only impact Team Canada, but other potential star power that is pencilled in to compete in Victoria – mainly Giannis Antetokounmpo from Greece.
Antetokounmpo is arguably one of the best basketball players in the world and is currently the NBA’s reigning MVP. Fondly known as ‘The Greek Freak,’ basketball fans anticipated Giannis to be showcasing his skill for a Vancouver Island audience this summer at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre. Now, not only is the 25-year old playing for the Milwaukee Bucks – one of the best teams in basketball that has a strong chance of going on a deep playoff run next season – but he is also in a contract year. This means that if he decides to test his options in free agency, Antetokounmpo might not risk playing for his country.
Olynyk adds that playing for your country is a “super prideful thing,” but contracts can outweigh that desire.
Canada must win the home tournament in Victoria in order to qualify for Tokyo.
The Canadian men haven’t made an Olympic appearance since the 2000 Sydney Games.
The Canadian women already clinched their berth for the Tokyo Games.
The Olympics were postponed this summer and will be held in July and August of 2021.
With files to Canadian Press