With a new NBA player heading overseas seemingly every day as the NBA lockout gets closer and closer to eradicating the entire season, it’s interesting to consider how player movement affects the evolution of the game itself.
For years, America was the undisputed, unchallenged greatest basketball playing nation on earth. Everywhere we went, every tournament, from the Olympics to the Tournament of the Americas was dominated by the US of A. Not just winning or barely holding on for victories, but crushing opponents. For years.
But gradually over time as basketball, particularly the NBA, grew in popularity around the globe the rest of the world caught up. The 2000 Olympics saw the gap close significantly where the US team failed to win a game by double digits for the first time ever with a team of American professional players. And it didn’t just happen once, but it happened three times.
I think the moment where it was as clear to everyone was the 2002 World Championships which saw the US finish in sixth place. Suddenly, we didn’t just win by showing up anymore. And it was a shock to everyone, even though it probably shouldn’t have been. Even prior to 2002 the NBA featured more non-American players, from more countries, than any other professional sports league in America. And with the import of all the different players from so many varying countries, the game itself changed.
European players who were once labeled “Too mechanical” or “soft” and would flounder in the NBA previously were suddenly succeeding. Because not only had their styles changed, but the NBA itself changed. Zone defense was allowed. The three point line was moved around. Team offensive concepts went out the window in favor of marketing individual superstars and the league became more one on one based. Athleticism trumped fundamentals. American basketball got lazy and the rest of the world got better.
So with the movement of players overseas, how will this change the development of the game heading forward? Deron Williams has gotten off to a rough start. Arguably the best PG in the NBA, if he goes to Turkey and struggles (like he has)
what does that say about the brand of basketball in the NBA? What if several bigger name players go to play abroad and don’t do that well? Will the NBA ever really be able to say that it is the best league in the world again? What if all the greed on both sides not only does the season in, but the NBA as a whole if we were to realize that it really wasn’t the superior league that it once was, anymore?
Or maybe, this is just the next evolution of the game where individual athleticism and fundamentals are finally seen as equally important.
If American players are physically superior and overseas players are more technically sound, a merging of the two would not only benefit players and fans, but make the NBA a better league than it has become.