The Bahamas are still revelling in putting themselves one step away from Olympic qualification for the first time in their history, with a pair of Phoenix Suns in Deandre Ayton and Eric Gordon powering the country to a pre-qualifying final win over Argentina recently.
Ayton looked trim and engaged for much, but not all, of the Bahamas’ 4-0 tournament run, while Gordon scored a game high 27 points in the decisive final win. In doing so, he showed that he is now without doubt the missing link on this Suns roster heading into next season.
But Gordon also did something else, and the fact he was even playing for the Bahamas at all really got under the skin of retired Argentinian, Andres Nocioni.
You might remember Nocioni for his journeyman like career in the NBA, which spanned nine seasons and took in three teams. He also played professionally in Spain and his homeland during this time.
Now 43-years-old, and staring down the reality that Argentina won’t be competing at a major tournament after five straight Olympic Games (winning gold in 2004 with Nocioni on that roster) and nine consecutive World Cups, Nocioni decided to take exception to Gordon joining the Bahamas after the fact.
Taking to Twitter in the wake of the defeat, he posted the following;
"Now with a cold mind, I think: is it fair what the Bahamas did to nationalize a player who had already competed for the United States (even winning a World Cup) at the last moment? This signing belongs to the club league, not the national team competition. And it should be corrected."
It is not like Gordon or the Bahamas will care what Nocioni has to say here. But it does take some of the shine off their accomplishment which, according to Nocioni, is unfair because Gordon has already played for Team USA proper in the past.
While that is true, under FIBA’s Article 22 of its Internal Regulations, a player can switch allegiances if FIBA deems it to be in the best interests of basketball. The USA also had to sign off on letting him switch, which they had no problem doing. The reality here is, the Bahamas adding an NBA veteran like Gordon is in the best interest of basketball in that region.
The Bahamas may already have had Ayton and Buddy Hield, but a small nation like that are always going to struggle against a powerhouse like Argentina. About the only sympathy you can feel for Nocioni’s home country, is the fact they’ve always done everything the right way. Building their program from the ground up.
But doesn’t Nocioni realize that Gordon suiting up for the Bahamas is going to inspire a new generation of players from that country to stick with the sport? To know that a guy who plays with Devin Booker and Kevin Durant for the Suns, the best duo in the league, would play for their little country. That’s exactly why FIBA were right to sign off on this.
A player like Gordon shouldn’t even matter if you’re Argentina. The truth is that they themselves are no longer producing talent at the fantastic rate they once did. So much so that a 34-year-old could torch them for 27 points in a pre-Olympic qualifying tournament. That says more about Argentina than it does FIBA, the USA or the Bahamas.
It is not like there isn’t precedent for this happening in other international sport either. The 2023 Rugby World Cup begins soon, and countries like Tonga and Fiji are now employing players who once played internationally for Australia and New Zealand. This seems only fair, the smaller countries have to put up with their best players being poached by these top countries.
In fact it goes beyond that, as if a player has not been selected for 36 months by a country in rugby union, they can make the switch to a country that one of their parents or grandparents are from. Apply that ruling to FIBA and there would literally be no issue here. Gordon’s mother is from the Bahamas and he hasn’t played for Team USA in over a decade.
Similarly in soccer, situations like this can pop up. Declan Rice, who recently cost Arsenal over £100 million, played both for the Republic of Ireland’s U21 setup in actual competition, and also appeared in three senior friendlies for the country. All of a sudden he became good enough to play for England, and so he switched allegiances.
You can’t blame him, England will compete at World Cups, whereas the Republic of Ireland are lucky if they even qualify. The history between these two countries is a long and complicated one, England ruling over the Republic of Ireland for over 800 years.
But Rice is English, he just qualified to play for Ireland through his family. A small country loses out here, and a bigger one profits. So this has always happened, across multiple sports, and it always will. Nocioni is just trying to steal the Bahamas’ moment because it was his country that lost out this time.