David Stern loves to promote the NBA internationally. It seems as though he spends more time trying to expand the league and its influence overseas more than he does leveling fines on just about everyone and everything in the league. Not even a terror alert in Europe can keep the NBA from extending their olive branch of basketball overseas. For the past several years NBA teams have been spending time in Europe and Asia for training camp often playing various Euroleague and Chinese teams in exhibition games. The sport of basketball is continuing to grow and it seems only reasonable that the NBA, the world’s best league, help promote the sport abroad. At the end of the 2009-10 season the NBA had 79 international players in it. The league also has a strong history of international player involvement. However, after everything the league has done to expand and improve the sport abroad while increasing the numbers of foreign born players, the world has not reciprocated the generosity that the NBA has shown. It seems that American basketball players are the only thing that the country cannot outsource.
Our main man, Ron Artest, who is with the Los Angeles Lakers in London for training camp and preseason games against the Minnesota Timberwolves, brought the disparity to light:
“They need to let more Americans play in the European leagues. There are only like two [Americans] to a team while Europeans can come to America [and play in the NBA] like the whole San Antonio Spurs team — a whole American team can be full of Europeans. Europe has to be a little more fair to the American players.
“You see a lot of foreign players come over to America to play in the NBA. It’s not fair that a lot of American players can’t come to China or can’t come to Europe to play with as many players as they want, so there’s no balance … They should just make it more even.”
So what is the deal, Europe? Is America too good for you? Only allowing two to three American players on a roster seems unfair when the Milwaukee Bucks ended last season with six players of foreign descent on their team. It seems as though there is a sort of tariff on American talent. Not every European league has a limit on the number of Americans that can be on a team’s roster, however. The best ones, in Spain and Greece, do though.
Spain, what is it about Spain and the Spanish players? (The Gasol brothers and Jose Calderon are not included in this critique.) Are they still bitter about the Spanish-American War? They seem to be the most uncooperative of all. Spanish players hint at the notion that they only want to play in Spain at times with Ricky Rubio looking further and further from his debut with the Timberwolves and Rudy Fernandez tweeting that he essentially wants to play for a Spanish team and leave the NBA. Spain is possibly the most confusing example of international basketball as the Spanish league is one of the best, but to keep Spanish players in Spain that apparently means keeping American players out. Greece and England do it too, however their nationals do not seem so disenfranchised with the NBA. This is a form of segregation. The NBA has always been open to players from all reaches of the globe.
Ever since the NBA raised the eligible draft age to 19, there has a small but growing stream of players venturing to Europe to hone their skills in an effort to make their way into the NBA. Brandon Jennings is the most notable player to have done this recently as he spent a year playing in Italy before entering the Draft. The Euroleague also offers more opportunities that the D-League does for players as well. Not only is it more financially lucrative but it affords a sense of celebrity, that players these days seem to covet, and with modest celebrity comes the attention of NBA scouts and the media. If the NBA can shine the spotlight on foreign players in their league then why should the Euroleague not follow suit?
Recently, FIBA (Fédération Internationale de Basketball) suggested that the NBA change some of their rules to comply with international rules. The main thing FIBA wanted changed is the NBA’s goaltending rule. So far the NBA has been rather receptive to the suggestion as the D-League will change its goaltending rules to comply with the current international rules. FIBA has also made changes to conform some of their rules to match those of the NBA. Isn’t it nice when everyone can get along?
If there can be common ground between the NBA and FIBA then why do some European and Chinese leagues limit American players? It seems to be a detrimental rule when the end goal of all parties involved is improving the quality of the sport worldwide. Maybe it is time for the NBA to ask for changes overseas.
Artest is right. Foreign leagues need to trash their current rules limiting the participation of American born players in their leagues. There is absolutely no point in keeping such dated rules. The parity of the players, both American and international, has grown closer. Allowing American players more opportunities in foreign leagues will not adversely affect the leagues competitive edge. It is not like NBA super stars in their prime are going to head overseas to play. The opportunity is more for players wanting to establish themselves and work on their skills in games rather than practice and for players looking to extend their careers such as Stephon Marbury and Bonzi Wells have done in China. It is time for the foreign leagues to follow the NBA’s open door policy for its players. It will only help improve the level of competition worldwide and afford more opportunities for players of every background.