The final four men's basketball spots in the 12-nation field for the Tokyo Olympics will be decided next summer, the sport's global organizing body said Thursday.
It remains unclear, however, if those spots will be earned while an NBA season is happening or if NBA players will be able to take part.
FIBA has pushed back the dates for the four remaining qualifying tournaments to June 29 through July 4, 2021, meaning they would end 19 days before the rescheduled start of the delayed Tokyo Olympics. The host nations -- Canada, Croatia, Lithuania and Serbia -- are unchanged.
But if the 2020-21 NBA season starts later than usual, which is a distinct possibility because of the coronavirus pandemic, some players -- such as Greece's Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks and Serbia's Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets -- might be busy with playoff games at the same time. And under normal circumstances, NBA free agency would conflict with those dates as well.
Typically, the NBA has not stopped during international qualifying windows for events like the World Cup and the Olympics. Also, the NBA has never seen the Finals go past June 25 in any season, but if next season is delayed, that could be possible.
"Representing your country is one of the greatest honors in sport," Canada Basketball president and CEO Glen Grunwald said. "I know our players will see the challenge ahead of them next summer as one small opportunity to recognize the daily sacrifices of all the front-line workers who are keeping our country safe and operating during this pandemic."
There are eight men's teams already in the Olympics: Japan, Nigeria, Argentina, Iran, France, World Cup champion Spain, Australia and the U.S., which has won the last three Olympic gold medals. Japan qualified automatically as the Olympic host; the other seven qualified based on their results at last summer's Basketball World Cup.
Besides the host nations for the qualifiers, the 20 other countries that will compete for those last four spots are Slovenia, Angola, Senegal, Mexico, Uruguay, China, South Korea, Greece, Russia, Brazil, Italy, Puerto Rico, Turkey, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, New Zealand and Tunisia.
There are six teams at each qualifying tournament, split into a pair of three-team groups at each site. Teams in the same group will play one another once to determine two semifinalists from each side. Those four teams will play a single-elimination tournament to decide the winner, and each of the four winners will get an Olympic berth.