The 2012 Olympic Games is one of a few opportunities to see NBA players on the international stage. Soccer, however, is played across borders constantly on both the country and club level. Soccer is unarguably the most popular team sport in the world, but if basketball would like to catch up at some point, the NBA must begin to cross international borders. Here are two examples of how soccer functions as an international game and what the NBA can do to further connect itself with the rest of the world:
1. International loans
Loan deals in soccer are commonplace. A player (usually one who is riding the bench and generally younger) will be “loaned” to another club for a period of time. The originating team still owns the contract of the player and uses the loan for developmental means. The goal in this case is for the young player to play in competitive games in order to further develop his skills. With the growth of international basketball, the NBA should look to relax its roster rules and contract policies by allowing clubs to loan out players to leagues internationally. While their current affiliation with the NBDL (the equivalent of minor league basketball) looks to address the development of young players, international basketball is far more competitive. The NBDL is important, but is purely designed to give players a shot at the NBA. Most are looking to impress scouts and not win basketball games. International basketball, especially in Europe, creates the opportunity for a player to help a team win. The prestigious EuroLeague (similar to the UEFA Champions League), puts the best teams of Europe in the same tournament. Many of these teams are filled with former or future NBA players that could easily fill out a roster for most teams. Loans can help the NBA and its players. What if Jeremy Lin had led a club in Europe to victory in the EuroLeague? Might this have prevented the Golden State Warriors from cutting him in his rookie season? For Jeremy, it all worked out. But for other young players, playing time often comes with luck (the injury of a rotation player for example), so what happens to all the Jeremy Lin’s of the NBA when everyone on their team stays healthy? Loan deals could be the answer to prevent wasted talent. There are several hurdles though. The league must relax its roster rules and allow more inactive players on its roster. Additionally, its contract policies must allow for these deals to happen. For the league, its teams, players, and for the growth of the game internationally, this move will only help.
2. The participation of NBA teams in international play
The UEFA Champions League is worth billions of dollars and the final is the most watched annual sporting event in the world (sorry football fans but the Super Bowl is number two). The NBA has an important role in developing the game worldwide but possibly the greatest way of doing this has yet to be attempted. NBA teams should be participating in an annual tournament featuring the best teams from all regions of the world. While this may be close to impossible to organize during the NBA season, a tournament after season’s end may not be out of the question. Many of the best teams in Europe would give NBA teams a run for their money, and while many fans love to see their greatest rivals go at it, a change of pace may bring new energy to fan bases. What if the LA Lakers were to be upset by Real Madrid in a tournament? Many would say that it was a fluke, but it certainly would not hurt the fans’ interest in future Laker-Madrid matchups and the interest in the sport internationally as well. As the growth of the global game continues to increase, NBA players may no longer feel satisfied just winning the domestic championship (aka the NBA Championship); by beating the world, teams can definitively say they are “World Champions”.