The three biggest EuroBasket 2022 stars, Luka Doncic, Nikola Jokic, and Giannis Antetokounmpo, rarely speak to the media during the major European basketball event, although international basketball still desperately lacks promotion.

Credit: Klansek Velej/Sportida/SIPA - Scanpix
Credit Klansek Velej/Sportida/SIPA - Scanpix

The basketball world was counting as if it were a New Year celebration.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Giannis  Antetokounmpo
Position: PF, SF
Age: 27
Height: 211 cm
Weight: 98 kg
Birth place: Athens, Greece

Just instead of the countdown from 10 to 0, everyone was waiting to see how high Luka Doncic could go with the numbers in the scoresheet that some of the table officials here in Cologne probably never saw.

A 23-year-old Slovenian finished with 47 points, putting up the 2nd highest scoring performance in the history of the EuroBasket.

Fans in Lanxess arena stood up to applaud the main performer of the night as if it was La Scala, not a basketball gym.

That wasn't just a great basketball game.

But watching how Luka made this game look so easy, inspired the crowd, scared his opponents with his impressions, trash-talked them, and enjoyed himself knowing nobody could stop him, was a form of art.

What do you expect next? Of course, to talk about the greatness with the star of the night.

But soon, as Luka was greeted with another MVP chant and Slovenian players were jumping with their fans, celebrating winning the group of death, an unexpected text message appeared on WhatsApp chat. That's where FIBA informs media members about players' presence at the press conference.

It said that the Slovenian coach Aleksander Sekulic and Edo Muric will be talking to the media after the game.

In the absence of Mike Tobey, Muric scored nine points, including two critical 3-pointers, and incredibly protected Slovenia's paint vs. French giants Rudy Gobert, Vincent Poirier, and Moustapha Fall.

But we're talking about the night when the NBA superstar scored 47 points in a national team game and put the whole basketball world on heels making a case for the single-game points record.

By not guaranteeing his appearance at the press conference, the Slovenian basketball federation media officer left him available only in the mixed zone.

The mixed zone is a restricted area where all accredited media members can approach players and coaching staff for flash interviews following the game's conclusion.

According to FIBA media rules, players and coaches are not obliged to stop but are strongly encouraged to take the time to answer journalists' questions.

However, it's not mandatory for players to stop there. And Luka Doncic never stops in the mixed zone.

"In the press conference," Luka Doncic replied when I tried to stop him for a flash interview in the mixed zone after the Bosnia and Herzegovina loss in Cologne.

It's also mandatory for teams to make the head coach and one player available for the official press conference that takes place 15 minutes after the end of the game.

So Luka Doncic 'invited' me to meet him at the press conference but never really showed up.

Nothing I wouldn't expect, to be honest. Instead, it was quickly announced on the media group chat that Vlatko Cancar would attend the conference.

When Doncic dominated the Hungary game with one of the most impressive individual performances, the Slovenians sent Jaka Blazic.

Blazic logged 11 points and 9 EFF that night. He didn't receive a single English question.

After the first close win vs. Lithuania, Doncic didn't appear in the press conference to make Dirk Nowitzki's jersey retirement ceremony on time. That's the reason you can easily accept. Also, he participated in the post-game interview for the TV right-holders from Slovenia. We're cool with that.

It's not the most demanding duty in the world, though.

Such NBA stars as Rudy Gobert, Evan Fournier, Dennis Schroder, Franz Wagner, Domantas Sabonis, Jonas Valanciunas, or Jusuf Nurkic didn't find any problem spending more than 10 minutes in the mixed zone in Cologne.

Since an official press conference late in June, Slovenians made Doncic available to media only before and after the Germany game.

With five games into the EuroBasket, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Nikola Jokic, The Big 3 of the EuroBasket 2022, barely spoke on cameras.

FIBA has a unique lineup of NBA superstars participating in the continental competition, with two NBA MVPs of the last four seasons and the future NBA MVP.

But FIBA can't guarantee an opportunity to make their best promoters of the event available for extended media coverage whose purpose, again, is to promote the game.

Giannis talked to the media this summer only twice. On a Greek media day early in August and after the 41-point game.

Nikola Jokic was available once on the first days of the Serbian national team preparation camp early in August. The Joker spoke for two minutes.

And it hurts not only us, journalists, but the entire FIBA and international basketball.

Why?

Basketball is an unprofitable sport in Europe, where the top basketball clubs lose 10-20 million euros every year.

National team basketball also doesn't generate any profits for the basketball federations.

Basketball has to fight for a place under the sun and compete with cricket, tennis, volleyball, field hockey, fighting, or racing. Thanks to NBA, it still keeps its position among the Top 5 sports in the world.

But international basketball is a different topic.

If you think we're just biased as media for not getting more views or clicks, let's just face the reality.

Even the official EuroBasket 2022 hotel receptionists in Cologne didn't know that a European basketball championship was being held three kilometers away.

Mike Tobey's joke about the driver who didn't recognize Slovenian players on an infamous taxi ride to the EuroBasket opener explains everything.

International basketball needs to be promoted, and there are no better promoters than European prodigies like Luka, Giannis, and Jokic.

These NBA superstars are available in every NBA post-game and usually pre-game media session. These press conferences generate hundreds of thousands of views on various media platforms. When they speak, people get their chairs closer to the screen to hear how the basketball geniuses see the game.

Luka showed up for an interview twice, but look how viral his words about the EuroBasket scoring record race or his favorite EuroBasket teams to watch went viral and reached the USA market.

Check Giannis Antetokounmpo post-NBA championship press conference. What an inspiration!

They are the artists that inspire by their on-court performance. But they also have this influence to educate others and make them better off the floor.

It's a hell of entertainment as well. And sports, first and foremost, is all about entertainment.

Look at these wild Bosnians, who are signing songs on their interviews.

In Lithuania, people would have paid for tickets to see Sarunas Jasikevicius' press conferences when he was coaching Zalgiris Kaunas.

You can understand that NBA is a huge business. Players are paid hundreds of millions mainly because of enormous TV deals. And television makes sure players speak on cameras. 

In the national team basketball, they come and play for free. There are no obligations from FIBA to force them to attend every possible media session.

Unsurprisingly, you didn't hear much from the best basketball players in the world.

On the other hand, Luka Doncic participated in every post-game press conference last year at the Tokyo Olympics. The tournament wasn't organized by FIBA, though.

We're not as rich as football that can do whatever they want and still make enormous money because the game is played worldwide.

Media already covered many different EuroBasket cinderella stories, dramas, emotional journeys, and incredible performances. 

But if you want to feel the difference in what value NBA superstars add to international basketball and its exposure, just check the footage of recent Serbia vs. Greece and Greece vs. Belgium games.

Both had record-breaking crowds in the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers and were discussed globally on social media.

If you need an example of what quality coverage adds to the sports from a business standpoint, just follow the success of Formula 1 after the Netflix docuseries "Formula 1: Drive to Survive" has started.

According to the research, the total fanbase was on track to exceed a billion, with 77% of new viewers (aged between 16 to 35) interested in sports in the past two years.

Races averaged approximately 70 million viewers, with the final race of the 2021 season beating the Super Bowl with 108.7 million simultaneous viewers.

On social media, it has more than 50 million followers with 40% annual growth and 1.5 billion aggregate social media engagements.

How come the Slovenian basketball federation, with one of the best players of a decade, has 15k Twitter followers when Nigeria's basketball is followed by more than 100k?

Follow D'Tigers' profile, and you will see.

Some national teams with NBA superstars neither promote their teams and basketball enough nor let others promote it. More than enough media availability requests were rejected despite not even trying to reach out to the most significant competition stars.

Luka, Giannis, and Jokic already did a lot to put a spotlight on national teams' basketball with their spectacular performances.

You can't complain about their gratitude to the fans too. They sacrifice 5-10 minutes of their warmup just to sign for the fans that come earlier to the stands. There are plenty of videos of how Luka and Giannis did it before or after games. The love is mutual.

Understandably, they want peace after games. They give hundreds of interviews throughout the season, and they come to represent their country voluntarily.

But this game here in Europe also needs them to speak about it as much as possible to help it to get where it deserves.

In today's world, where all traditional activities have to fight for the attention of an incredibly changed society, the game can't just be played and not talked about.

The interest in Formula 1 or UFC skyrocketed not just because of some tough battles and races but also because of how the story was created around those events.

Look how NBA basketball is covered and what media availability this business has.

FIBA has to find a way to make its top promoters available for media more often. 

As we saw in the EuroBasket host cities, too many people are still unaware of the greatness they're missing right under their noses.

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oldskool Ed
I somewhat agree. More exposure would garner more media attention, but that said it's a way for these superstars to feature the other players as well and make everybody understand that in the end regardelss how much talent one player has, it's a team sport. Hearing Luka answer a question in the press conference after their win against Germany 'what's it's like when Luka happens' he quickly reminded the journalist that 'Slovenia happened' not Luka Doncic. That's refreshing to see. To have a generational talent be so aware that winning basketball games is a team effort, is important. It's a pure team sport where both offense and defense reliy on everybody doing their part. These types of answers show they understand what's needed and shows respect to their fellow teammates which probably will have it's effect in the whole team dynamic, making every player to go the extra mile and execute all the hard and unseen tasks that help these super stars to win.
2022-09-09
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