Will there be a mass exodus from the NBA to Europe if the lockout continues? In a word: no. It is possible that many NBA players, including the biggest stars, go abroad to play if the regular season is affected, but as soon as the lockout is over, all of the best NBA players will come right back to the United States. The reasons for this vary from player to player, but they center around two main facts. First, the best endorsement deals exist in the NBA. Second, and more importantly, the competitive spirit that exists in top-tier athletes will push them to move back to the NBA and compete against the best players in the world.
The first half of the equation is the endorsement deals. The major endorsements – Nike, Adidas, Reebok, Under Armor and the like – do not look for foreign basketball players. Those companies are selling basketball shoes to fans of the NBA and NCAA, and they want players who are recognizable NBA or former NCAA stars. As a result, no matter how big of a star a player is, they will not garner the same attention internationally as they would playing in the NBA. This makes them less appealing to major marketing companies, closing many endorsement deals.
A great example of this truth is Ricky Rubio. Despite being considered one of the most marketable players in Europe, and potentially a future star in the NBA, there are not world-wide ads featuring Rubio the way there are for Kobe, Lebron, Wade, Nowitzki, or even rookie John Wall. But once Rubio is in the NBA (assuming he has some level of success) that will quickly change. These major marketing deals are only available to NBA players, and so the best players in the world will always gravitate to the NBA, where they can make the most money and be most recognizable.
Once the best players in the world are in the NBA, the natural psyche of great athletes will bring almost all of the NBA players back to the United States to play.
There is a certain level of arrogance required to succeed in athletics; to some extent, a player must believe they are the best if they are going to beat the best. Announcers always talk about how “every great shooter believes their next shot is going in.” At the end of a game, top closers like Kobe or Dirk believe that their shot will go in, no matter where they shoot from. Great shooters like Ray Allen always believe their next shot will go in, even if they have missed their last 10. This attitude makes top-level athletes relish the chance to compete against one-another. Interviews with NBA players always end with those players talking about how much they enjoy playing against the All Stars of the league.
This competitive fire is what will hold players in the NBA. Star athletes live to compete against other star players, and they will not be satisfied with less. Kobe wants to best Jordan in every aspect; beating up on inferior competition in Turkey will not help him attain this level. The “Big Three” in Miami joined together to win an NBA title. A Spanish League title wouldn’t satisfy them. Dirk Nowitzki is German, but did not stay in Europe to chase Euro-league titles. Instead he came to the NBA, endured criticism and many years of failure for the chance to stand as king of the best league, even if it is for just one year. No matter how long the lockout lasts, when it is done, the best players, the ones who make the NBA the best basketball league in the world, will return for the opportunity to climb to the top of the most talented league in the world; it’s in a great athlete’s nature.
The lockout sucks. Fans, players or owners, no one is enjoying a potential obstruction to the NBA season. And the lockout is beginning to produce a larger number of players threatening to go overseas to play basketball. I do not doubt that players will go overseas to play while the lockout is in progress. But as soon as the lockout ends, the best players in the NBA will all quickly return to the league where they can best establish their position in marketing and in history.
My name is Peter Souders and I am an avid sports fan and consistent contributor to the YCN. I focus mainly on baseball, football, basketball and golf, and I have been published on Yahoo Sports as well as the YCN. I can be followed on twitter: @PeterSouders where I respond to questions and comment on the sports world as a whole.