If NBA Lockout Occurs, Will Players Play and Possibly Stay Overseas?

With all the turmoil surrounding the National Football League (NFL) regarding the ongoing lockout between the owners and the NFL’s Player’s Association, the NBA, its team owners, and its players should commit themselves to doing everything possible to avoid a lockout.  Even though a possible NBA lockout doesn’t have as many deep consequences and issues that the NFL’s lockout contains, any type of lockout for the NBA could see ramifications that could change the business and the way the game is played in the US in the future.

In the May 30, 2011 issue of ESPN the Magazine, which is being sold on stands now, an article discusses the possibility of a lockout in the NBA this summer and what may happen with the league that might be unsettling to NBA fans, the league, and businesses that are involved with the NBA, its teams, and its players.  ESPN the Magazine is running a series of columns, named “Player X” that provides “unfiltered looks into the lives of professional athletes.”*  All of the “Player X” articles are written anonymously by either active or retired professional athletes, who aim to shed light and give a raw perspective on issues in their respected leagues.

This particular “Player X” article is written by an NBA star, who hypothesizes that if a lockout occurs in the NBA, then “at least 15% of the NBA will be playing be playing somewhere else if we call of the season.”*  But what this player states next is the sentence that jumps off the page.  He claims that “some will stay there.”*  Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol are just two of several NBA players who have already stated they would seriously consider going overseas to play if a lockout occurs.  As discussed in this article, the NBA community and its fans are already starting to witness a new trend of former NBA players making a move to overseas teams, with highly publicized examples of Stephon Marbury and Allen Iverson.

Professional basketball is skyrocketing in popularity in foreign countries, especially China and Europe.  Foreign basketball teams have been more forgiving of the troubling egos and reputations than the NBA of former pro players, such as Marbury and Iverson, which has allowed those players a fresh start even though they are both past their prime.  However, as the article discusses, foreign basketball organizations are beginning to attract both younger and established players in a variety of ways.

First, overseas teams/clubs have the financial capital to entice and contract skilled players.  Player X once heard that a Russian team offered LeBron James $30 million per season.  Second, the foreign basketball community, primarily its coaches, teach and value the true fundamentals of the game of basketball.  Player X goes as far as summarizing the NBA as “basically a very talented street-ball league.”*  Foreign basketball teams focus on pure shooting, smart passing, proper dribbling, playing the post, and the basics of basketball that made the game great.  Third, sponsorship possibility is just as valuable if not more in foreign countries.  With the demand for basketball increasing overseas, companies are willing to pay high dollar for a name to be attached to their product.

Lockout or not, the appeal of basketball overseas is not going away.  As Player X states, “Players are beginning to realize that if they go overseas, even for a season, they’ll come back with more skills, and that translates into greater success and better contracts back here [the US].”*  Player X goes on to predict that tomorrow’s bigs will look like Dwight Howard, but play with skills like Pau or Marc Gasol.  Foreign players have been growing in population in the NBA for the past two decades.  Perhaps a lockout, canceled, and/or shortened season in the NBA could cause this trend to reverse by growing the population of NBA players on foreign basketball teams and clubs.

*Source: ESPN the Magazine, May 30, 2011

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