3. FIBA Basketball World Cup
Date: Aug. 30-Sept. 14
The concept of the World Championship is almost completely lost on the U.S. sports viewer, which is a real shame where basketball's big event is concerned. U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski takes it quite seriously and takes time out from coaching the Duke Blue Devils to work out a squad of All-Stars including Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Russel Westbrook and James Harden (LeBron and Carmelo don't show until the Olympics). There's a reason for this.
While not a terribly accurate predictor of the Olympics that follow two years later, they've been a great means for taking the temperature of Team USA in the interim. The U.S. has developed an almost Soviet obsession with the Olympic gold in basketball, to the point where a bronze-medal finish in Athens in 2004 was deemed tantamount to national disgrace.
Two years earlier, despite having home-court advantage in Indianapolis, Team USA failed to make the podium at the World Championships for the first time since 1978. It was discouraging, but also a reminder that, after 1978, the 1980 U.S. Olympic basketball team failed to earn a medal in the sport for the first and only time in the nation's history.
This year's matchup in Spain is going to be a similar test, but one that takes place on the home courts of its biggest international rival. After winning the World Championships in 2006, Spain made it to the Olympic gold-medal game against the U.S. in 2008 and 2012. It lost by 11 and 7 points, respectively, but gave the U.S. its slimmest margin of victory in the Olympics since its 19-8 win over Canada at the Berlin games in 1936. With core players including Marc Gasol and Ricky Rubio returning this year, home-team Spain will be looking to make a statement.
So where can you see the world's Top 24 teams square off? Well, two years ago, ESPN signed a deal with FIBA that gave it exclusive rights to the the FIBA Americas Championships and EuroBaskets matchups last year and to this year's World Cup. All games will be available on Overall, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3 and ESPN Deportes while Team USA and Gold Medal Games will air live on ESPN or ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes. That means anyone with an Internet service provider will get access to at least some of the events through the Watch ESPN app, but ESPN subscribers will get unfettered access to the whole thing.
It's a coup for ESPN, but it's great news for basketball fans who get access to international competition that their hockey counterparts just don't.