'94 Will Be Big Year for Basketball Worlds

Article excerpt

IN the United States, even well-versed basketball followers would struggle to come up with a single memory from what should be the sport's premier international event - the world championships. "The worlds mean nothing here," says Dave Gavitt, chief executive officer of the Boston Celtics and past president of USA Basketball, the sport's national governing body.

If the quadrennial competition is a blank in the American sports consciousness, it may be because the championships have never been played in the United States. Next summer, though, the event at last moves into a major North American media market when Toronto, a prime candidate for a National Basketball Association expansion franchise, co-hosts the 16-team tournament with Hamilton, Ont., Aug. 4-14. Toronto has stepped in for Belgrade, which had to bow out due to the conflict there that divided its former national team, the reigning world champions.

That Yugoslavia and the former Soviet Union (with three titles each) have achieved results superior to those of the US (a two-time winner) hints at another factor gravitating against American interest: The worlds have often been out of sync with US basketball.

Gavitt says the international basketball community "has never really quite understood our calendar." During its formative years, beginning with the inaugural worlds in 1950, the competition was in conflict with the US season, making top collegians unavailable. In recent decades, it has more conveniently been held in the summer, but long after media interest in basketball subsides.

The only coverage the worlds have ever received from any of the three American networks came in 1982, when CBS carried the final game. Otherwise, the Turner Network bought the rights to the 1986 tournament as part of the Goodwill Games. It proved to be a good year for American TV to tune in, as a United States squad led by center David Robinson and Muggsy Bogues came from behind in the final to beat the Soviets.

Various factors, including allowing NBA players into the Olympics, have coalesced in recent years to focus attention on the exciting new possibilities for the world championships. In response, USA Basketball is planning a bid to co-host both the 1998 men's and women's world championships in a first-ever joint tournament. …