In 2007 at the turning point of his career David Beckham decided to sign for the LA Galaxy. After playing for some of the most successful teams in soccer he decides to join the MLS in the United States. Where at that time, soccer was as popular as Joseph Kony was back then.
There might be doubters but there is not denying Beckham’s arrival to Los Angeles has been a success in many levels. Soccer in America now goes beyond going out to a bar to watch the world cup every four years. It is now considered a real sport.
And it’s not only Beckham, there have been many soccer players from all over the world that go to play in countries that they would have never considered going to at their peak of their careers. Maradona, Pele, Cruyff all went to play in a country where the sport needed a boost and now is players like Roberto Carlos, Rivaldo and even a - not so old - Thierry Henry, who has followed Beckham’s steps and joined the MLS too.
The positive impact these players have in the sport, the communities, the business, etc. makes me wonder why don’t NBA players do the same thing. Basketball has been a global sports since Michael Jordan made popular to stick your tongue out while playing. But how many basketball fans outside of the US got to see Jordan play live, or Ewing, or Barkley, or even crazy hair Dennis Rodman? Not many is my guess.
NBA has put much effort trying to stay global and to some degree they have been successful. Basketball after all is played everywhere but my message here is not for the NBA, nor for team owners to bring more games to international seas(which they still should). This message is for the players, especially those who are way past their peak.
I imagine that it’s difficult to accept that one is not longer competitive or still haven’t gotten a championship ring but there is a misconception in the US and specially around the NBA community that playing overseas is as low as you could possibly go. That’s just wrong. Look at the success Stephon Marbury has had in China, the impact the guy has made in thousands of kids that never seen basketball played at an elite level. The impact on the economy around stadium and the families that are benefiting from it. But most importantly the impact in the sport’s international growth.
The motivation for this article was the rumour that started yesterday that Allen Iverson was going to play for a regional team from the Dominican Republic. When it was falsely announced, thousand of fans in online communities like Twitter and Facebook were really excited about the opportunity to watch play one of the best players from the last decade.
Mr. Iverson himself can’t picture how big he was in the Dominican Republic in the early 2000s. Every kid wanted to move like him, he kept basketball relevant after Jordan retired. It wasn’t Kobe and Shaq or Tim Duncan’s fundamentally sound game. It was Allen Iverson killer crossover.
It is sad that after all it was just a rumour. For me personally, it was a bit disappointing. I was really looking forward to it. I was at the garden a couple of weeks ago for the Sixers-Knicks game. It was my first time in an official basketball game and it was magical, I loved it. But I would have prefered to watch a supposedly “burned out” Allen Iverson than a Jeremy Lin at his prime. And it wasn’t just me personally, around the web people from all over the country were already planning to drive to see AI play. That rumour made people remember that basketball is played in the Dominican Republic, it made it relevant even if it was just for a few hours.
Something needs to be done to change NBA players minds about the playing overseas at the end of their careers. It is natural to decrease performance with age but there is nothing wrong about playing in another country. it is actually the best way to leave the game from a player’s perspective. After all they will be the stars and will stay relevant game to game but most importantly they will help the sport growth at a faster pace at the international level.
P.S. Mr.Bryant I hope by the time you are retiring, you be willing to come down here for a few games.