The NBA has long served as second fiddle to the NFL, which for one is known as “America’s pastime.” The NFL has more fans, more TV viewers and brings in more money. But while the NFL lockout approaches its fourth month and the NBA’s is less than two weeks old, the NBA players seem to have one advantage over their football brethren, and it could very well be a key element in solving their own labor dispute with its league and ownership.
On Thursday, the agent for NBA All-Star and New Jersey Nets point guard Deron Williams confirmed reports that his client had agreed in principle to play for a professional team in Turkey should the lockout affect the start of the coming NBA season. Williams is the first superstar to announce such plans to go and play overseas, and it should be noted that the contract contains a clause that allows Williams to return to the NBA should the lockout ends. So while Williams’ plans certainly don’t signal any sort of mass exodus, his intentions make one thing loud and clear - if the NBA and team owners don’t want them to play here, it appears there are other options available.
While the NFL may dominate the headlines and airwaves here in the U.S., there’s no denying that the NBA has considerably more global appeal. Look no further than the NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks, who are led by their all-star forward and this year’s NBA Finals MVP, Dirk Nowitzki, who’s from Germany. In fact, last season’s opening-night team rosters featured 84 international players from 38 countries and territories, according to InsideHoops.com. The NFL has its share of international players, but given the discrepancy in size between active rosters (53 on NFL, 12 on NBA), the percentage of international players in the NBA is considerably greater. And don’t forget, basketball is an Olympic sport. Football, well at least American football, isn’t.
The NFL has placed more emphasis in recent years on growing its sports globally, as evidenced by the regular-season games that have been played in London and Mexico, as well as the Buffalo Bills’ annual home game played in Toronto since 2008. There was even NFL Europe (or the World League), which fielded teams in four different European countries from 1991-2007. However, while the NFL is working on growing its global footprint, the NBA’s is well established and continues to grow.
The professional basketball leagues in Europe and Asia, specifically those in Turkey and China, are thriving and have owners who are flush with cash and looking to make a splash by bringing an NBA like Williams to their team, even if it’s only temporary. The NFL may have sister leagues, if you will, like the fledgling UFL, the more established CFL or even Arena Football, but to date, no established players or more importantly, stars, have expressed any desire to take their talents elsewhere even while the lockout drags on.
That does not appear to be the case with the NBA. In fact, Ergin Atamanthe, the coach of the Turkish team that has agreed in principle with Williams, has said he’s not done with his recruiting efforts. “If there's a possibility, we'll talk with Kobe (Bryant) if he'd like to play in Europe with Deron and with other guys to play we can talk with him,” he said.
So while the NFL owners and players continue to meet and negotiate in hopes of getting back to business soon, at least commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners don’t really have to worry about those they locked out going anywhere else. On the other hand, if other NBA players decide to follow Williams to Turkey and destinations elsewhere, that may be more than enough incentive to get back to the bargaining table and come to an agreement before this drags on too long. Because one way or the other, it appears that some NBA players will be back on the court this fall, it just may not be here in the U.S.
For more on the NBA lockout, click here.