I am conflicted about a recent development in professional basketball: European players actually choosing to play in Europe over the United States. Although soft and floppy, foreign players bring a really dynamic element to the American game- they pleasantly combine classical form with an expansive vision of their position (for example, all the foreign combo guards, or all the European big men who can knock down an outside jumper). But recent events, such as Tiago Splitter's decision to stay with Tau Ceramica rather than join the Spurs or Juan Carlos Navarro's decision to move back to Spain after having played for the Grizzlies (why would you want to live in Spain when you could live in Tennessee?) point towards the emerging trend.
Part of my conflict is selfish. I have greater access to the NBA than I do the Euroleague and want to be able to see the top shelf talent out there on a consistent basis. Part of me is also frustrated because this trend obviously reflects the reality of the American economy as well as the Dollar's relationship to the Euro.
But really my intrigue derives from how this will affect the game itself. First and foremost, I am happy that the Euroleague is having the kind of success where it can offer talented players competitive contracts. I hold little nationalist sentiment, well, in general, but in particular when it comes to sports. I think it is beautiful that the game has had such global success. I am also a proponent of an increasingly cosmopolitan sense of the game on a professional level: if the Euroleague or the Chinese league were competitive enough that the NBA and other countries could organize the hoops equivalent to the Champions League, I would be a proponent. So this isn't coming from some type of quiet jingoism or nostalgia for American dominance.
But look at the players making the decision to move to Europe: Splitter, Navarro. Dirk Nowitzki and Manu Ginobili aren't going anywhere. The NBA isn't going to be robbed of any superstars, and to be honest I hate the superstar-centric culture of the NBA so I wouldn't even care that much if it was. But what they stand to lose are a plethora of talented role and bench players who really flesh out American franchises. If you could play 20 minutes a game for $500,000 a year in Cleveland, or 40 minutes a game for $2 million a year in Madrid, is that really even a choice? I'm concerned that an increased amount of openness on the part of NBA players to head across the pond will quietly rob teams of their solid second-tier guys and encourage the franchises to be even more top-heavy when it comes to personnel. I'll be interested to see who is the first American player to choose Europe over the NBA. Obviously Americans play in Europe, but most didn't have a legitimate shot at playing in the Association. It would be unprecedented for an American who had a real choice to choose an international league over the States.