Canada could have one of the strongest Olympic men’s basketball rosters — should it qualify for the Games for the first time since 2000 and should its NBA stars commit to playing.
Both are unknowns.
This week, Sportsnet published a video in which Canadian head coach Nick Nurse (also the Toronto Raptors coach) said a gold medal would be bigger than the NBA title, which his Raptors won in 2019.
Andrew Wiggins and Jamal Murray, two of Canada’s best players in the NBA, were less outspoken when asked this week about Olympic participation given a shorter-than-usual turnaround from the end of the NBA season.
“I don’t know,” said Wiggins, a small forward for the Golden State Warriors. “I’m going to cross that bridge when I get to it.”
Murray, a breakout performer as the Denver Nuggets point guard in last season’s playoffs, said, “We can talk about the Olympics, if they’re happening” after the 2021 playoffs.
But Murray might have to address it earlier than that, given a potential NBA Finals Game 7 will be the day before the Opening Ceremony (and Olympic men’s basketball games start two days after that).
Or he might not have to decide. Canada hasn’t qualified for the Olympics — yet. It hosts a last-chance qualifying tournament in British Columbia, from June 29-July 4, during the NBA playoffs.
Canada, likely without some of its NBA players and potentially without Nurse on the sideline, must beat a field that includes China, Greece, the Czech Republic and Turkey.
In the last Olympic cycle, Canada lost winner-goes-to-the-Olympics games to Venezuela and France. Wiggins led the team that was upset by Venezuela in 2015, then skipped the last-chance qualifying tournament in the Philippines that France won in 2016. Murray, drafted by the Nuggets in 2016, wasn’t on either team.
At Canada’s last Olympic appearance in 2000, Steve Nash led a scrappy team that nearly reached the medal round. Nash and center Todd MacCulloch were their only NBA players. Nash’s devotion was such that he was reportedly sobbing and had to be dragged off the floor after Canada lost in the quarterfinals to eventual silver medalist France.
In the two decades since, Canada developed a bevy of NBA players. A potential Canadian team in Tokyo includes Murray, Wiggins, guards RJ Barrett and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and veteran big man Tristan Thompson.
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