Bucks Diary

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Basketball Earth is flattening, too

I always wondered when this day might come. It actually came much sooner than I expected. The basketball talent market has suddenly globalized. And it may be bad news for lower echelon teams like my Milwaukee Bucks.

Europe, with all of its little peasant basketball leagues, has suddenly become, essentially, a poor man's version of what the ABA was to the NBA in the 1970s -- a rival basketball league that is positioned to drive up the NBA's cost of labor. Its impact could be greatest amongst the "young and talented" players who are restricted free agents but who are not quite superstars. Players like Josh Childress. Under the NBA's salary cap structure, such players have little bargaining power. But with Europe in play, that has changed dramatically.

I always worried about the eventual possibility of Europe undermining the NBA salary cap structure. After all, its happened in nearly every formerly unionized domestic industry, why would basketball be any exception?

But because of the unique qualities of sports I did not think the international bidding war would manifest itself for years on, mostly because I thought Europe would not become a truly enticing possibility for talented young Americans (its always been enticing for marginal Europeans to return) until the reputation of the European Leagues greatly increased. Frankly, until that day came, I believed pure professional pride and just plain old Americana (cue "The Battle Hymn of the Republic") would override the allure of the Euro for young American players. I underestimated some of them... or at least their love for "The Benjamins". (And I can't really begrudge them that... after all their "value window" is quite small).

And so the plummeting dollar, along with what I think is a rising level of just plain "cosmopolitanism" amongst the internet generation, has provided a real opportunity for deep pocketed and completely unfettered European teams to go after and get USDA prime cut NBA talent, for the first time ever.

And if this trend continues, it could be a real problem for teams like the Bucks. The Bucks, ultimately, have to rebuild themselves using the same method the Brewers have used. They have to stockpile young talent and nurture it together.

That will be harder to do if they have to compete for that talent with outside entities like Europe.

However, let me reign the "Flat Earth" boogie man in a bit. First off, Childress strikes me as a bit of a lone wolf -- certainly more intellectually adventuresome than your average NBAer. I find it hard to believe most young American ballers would be willing to sacrifice any of their professional prime at all to go play in Europe... no matter what the premium payment on offer. The NBA's allure is still very, very strong... and foreign cultures can still be quite daunting and lonely. Second, the federal reserve will not continue its cheap money policy forever. The dollar will eventually find its footing again, and that will hopefully take away some of Europe's monetary strength.

Finally, Europe is a bit of a dying continent. The collective birthrate among all of the major countries save for Great Britain is shockingly low. In fact, the New York Times magazine did a piece recently on how Europe, over the next century, may be "going out of business." It stands to reason that a substantial decline in the overall birth pool would also lead to a substantial decline in the basketball talent pool, which would further erode Europe's ability to pose a long term threat to the NBA. But time will tell. Its something to keep an eye on, that's for sure.


At August 7, 2008 at 9:03 AM, Anonymous Salva said...

Hi there. I'm sorry but I don't agree about that thing of "little peasant leagues" in Europe. Basket has always been very competitive in countries such as Spain, Greece, Italy, Russia, Israel, Turkey... with great players (Sabonis, Marciulionis, Divac, Kukoc…). I don’t think Europe “is dying”, it would be really sad. I understand what you mean but I don’t think so. Anyway, a player who comes here for 10 million dollars for season doesn’t care at all about that. I don’t see young American players coming here neither. Definitely, Childress must a lonely wolf. On the other hand, NBA has and will always have a higher level despite some multimillionaire European owners.
Congratulations for you blog, it’s really interesting. Good luck to Milwaukee Bucks!

At August 7, 2008 at 9:09 AM, Anonymous Salva said...

By the way I'm at DiarioNBA.blogspot.com (I don't know why it didn't appear with my comment)


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