Wednesday, August 6, 2008
In case you haven't noticed, NBA players are fleeing their middling teams and wack salaries for the richer pastures of Europe. This was bound to happen eventually, what with the improvement of international basketball over the last decade or so. Also, if you are familiar with this blog, you will also remember that one of our authors made th prophetic vision that people will follow the footsteps of Brandon Jennings should he decide to hop the pond. Prophetic, I am.
Anyways, the list does include some NBA notables, but mostly middle of the road dudes that are little more than role players on their teams. Some already have international experience (Nenad "Nads" Krstic, Jorge "Garbage" Garbajosa, Carlos Arroyo). Others just felt like escaping.
While Jennings was the most original and notable (being a high school player making the exodus so he could get paid instead of go to school), Josh Childress was probably where the dam broke. Childress, a young athlete that played a fair amount on a fair, young, athletic team, signed a three-year $30 Million contract with Olimpiacos (Greece). Childress isn't even the first American to play for this team, but he is the first NBA-established player to go across in the peak of his career. Most people usually wait until they are too old for the NBA, or they go overseas if they can't make the NBA. When people saw how much Childress was going to get paid ($10mil a year is starter money on playoff teams), others thought to themselves, 'hey, I could make that money.'
There are other factors to realize with this deal. Going overseas doesn't just mean more money. Well, it does, but in different ways. What most people don't realize is that when you get paid with most pro teams in Europe, you keep all your money. Most pro clubs in Europe, regardless of the sport, pick up the tab on taxes, housing, cars, pretty much all living necessities. That means that ALL of that $30 million is Josh's (Jennings is looking smarter than any other Arizona Wildcat right about now). Furthermore, the teams that can afford to lure players away (Olimpiacos, CSKA Moscow, Barcelona) are generally all contenders. Anyone can tell you that it is way more fun to win than lose, regardless of the league. Finally, look at where you get to play! Josh Childress left Atlanta for Athens, Greece. If you were wondering, Athens is nicer than Atlanta. By a lot. Seriously, look at NBA cities (New Jersey, Milwaukee, Oklahoma City, Toronto). Compare those with the nicest cities in Europe (and then Moscow), fuck a language barrier, those places are great.
Now the average fan doesn't care much about the people that have already gone across the pond. In fact, several of you probably have never even heard the name "Earl Boykins" before. Most people won't even miss the ones that are gone (I, for one, will miss Carlos Arroyo's pimp ass shoes). But in the last few days, Kobe Bryant and [sources close to] LeBron James said that they would go if the money was right. The money being astronomical (Kobe says $40 million a year, Bron's bro says fitty). That's a heck of a lot of money. Money that NBA teams can't compete with due to the salary cap. It's one thing for lesser known albeit decent players to go, but when you talk about two of the main faces of the NBA, it probably sends a shiver up David Stern's spine.
I discussed the intangible merits of playing hoops in Europe, and so I must point out the main perk of hooping in the USA: sponsorship dollars. LeBron doesn't make most of his money playing basketball. He makes most of his money being a face to slap on a Coke can, a Nike billboard, even a pack of Bubble Gum (Yes, there is a LeBron Bubblicious flavor of gum). While that $50 million figure would be about double what he makes from the Cavs, he would stand to lose a fair amount of money in sponsorships (yes, Nike and Coke exist everywhere, but he wouldn't be moving the same amount of goods, therefore he would take a pay cut. Think how many Beckham commercials you see in the USA these days). Will LeBron go overseas? Probably, but not before he wins a couple of rings in the NBA first. Maybe in about fifteen years he'll go.
The European basketball leagues have long been a sort of retirement program for aging hoopsters. Darryl "Chocolate Thunder" Dawkins (the only NBA player to ever claim he was an alien from the planet Luvtron) played in Italy for a spell, as did Magic Johnson, Julius Erving, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, World B. Free, et al. Stephon Marbury even announced his plan last summer to go play in Europe after his contract expires. Not just in Europe, either. Sonny Alvarado played in a Korean league, and God Shammgod still plays in China. One of the most important twists, however, is that Joe "Jellybean" Bryant played in Italy for a long time.
Which, of course, brings me to Kobe. Kobe was raised in Italy when his pops (the aforementioned Bryant) played there. Kobe speaks Italian, and loves to jetset to all the happening places in Europe. For all the reasons that LeBron has to stay, Kobe has to go. Kobe's already accomplished everything one can in the NBA. Three rings, MVP, Scoring champ, etc. All checked off the list. Furthermore, Kobe doesn't have hardly any sponsorships anymore after his Colorado naked party (also, Euro chicks don't sue you when you bang them. Another good reason, Kobe!), therefore, if he's gotta live off of his hoops playing, playing somewhere with no taxes or salary caps is probably a wise move. Considering that he's already comfortable with the life on an expatriate, and that he already plays with a bunch of bricklaying Eurotrash on the Lakers, Kobe is probably the only superstar that might make the jump while still in their prime.
Would this hurt the NBA? Maybe. It would definitely help basketball on a global scale, and bring us one step closer to my dream of having a basketball champion's league (which would be sweet).
The Euro phenomenon has made this offseason pretty interesting, and is a perfect build up for the Olympics (which will showcase all of the best talent, NBA or otherwise). One way or another, there are definitely more basketball leagues than just the NBA, and those leagues aren't for hasbeens and neverwas's anymore.