warning Hi, we've moved to USCANNENBERGMEDIA.COM. Visit us there!

Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Artest Is Wrong (Again), Euro Leagues' Two American Rule Is A Good One

Dan Watson |
October 11, 2010 | 12:37 p.m. PDT

Staff Writer

Ron Artest has not gone through life exercising thoughtfulness with his words.

“I used to drink Hennessy … at halftime,” he once mused. “I (kept it) in my locker.”

In 2004, he asked coach Rick Carlisle for a month off to promote the release of a rap album. “When I decided I wanted to leave the game or take a month off, I’m a grown man,” he pontificated then.

On another occasion: “I’ve never taken medication in my life. Doctors have suggested it and I say, ‘OK, give it to me.’ But I throw it in the garbage immediately.”

In 2009: “After our careers are over, I will fight Ben Wallace in the boxing ring.”

On and on it’s gone, Ron the rambling quote machine.

Yet, on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2010, something delightfully unexpected happened.

Ron had a moment of clarity.

 “You see a lot of foreign players come over to America to play in the NBA," he said. "It’s not fair that a lot of American players can’t come to China or can’t come to Europe to play with as many players as they want, so there’s no balance... They should just make it more even.”

Cue the crickets, blank stares, furrowed eyebrows, shrieks of horror.

Ronald William Artest just made an astute point. Thought-provoking, even.

Worthy of examination.    

It is true that many European leagues allow just two non-Euro players (in essence, two Americans) on their rosters. Yet, the NBA opens its arms to the rest of the world. Seventy-nine players from 35 countries played for NBA teams last season.

Is it not discrimination!? Where will the lousy American players go? Don’t the Euro leagues want to make more money? They need the Americans. They’re better anyway. Yes, Ron-Ron! It’s not fair!

Under further examination, of course, Ron Artest is still crazy, and so is his latest take on European leagues.

The world may be taking over the NBA, but the NBA can’t take over the world.

It sure is trying though.

There are two good reasons for the limits:

  1. The worldwide leagues want to develop their young national players, hopefully to showcase them at Euroleague, FIBA and the Olympics. Without a limit, they’d be overrun by American players, who generally are more developed at a younger age.
  2. The rule prevents rich teams, such as Olympiakos, Panthinaikos, Barcelona, Real, etc. from stockpiling American players, who demand significantly higher salaries.

It’s enough that the NBA is running like a hegemony through many countries. The NBA has four offices in China and five European offices (London, Paris, Milan, Istanbul and Madrid).

Since the creation of NBA China, the league has taken advantage of a growing fan base amongst 1 billion people. According to Sports Business Journal, “the NBA’s international business generates a high-single-digit percentage of the league’s $4.3 billion total revenue.” NBA China revenue makes up about half that number.

Kobe Bryant sure saw the potential. Commercials, billboards, a popular website and reality show have made him so popular in China that his NBA jersey outsells Yao Ming’s. That’s right, Kobe is bigger than Yao Ming in China.

With China in its pocket, the NBA next turned to India.

“The NBA’s goal is to make basketball the second-most popular sport in India behind cricket,” read an August article in USAToday. The NBA noticed India’s growing middle class and figured it was ready for recreation.

In 2008, Max Hamilton, the director of marketing partnerships at the NBA said, “International growth is top priority and Europe is top of that list.”

Next conquest: All of Europe.

But who can blame the NBA? It claims the world’s best players and deserves the most attention.

What it does not deserve is to send its many, many flunkies flooding into the worldwide leagues. The rest of the world is still catching up.

It is not a case of anti-Americanism. Neither is it discrimination.

It’s business and nationalism.

From a business perspective, it’s exactly what the NBA does when it turns away 18-year-olds. The NBA is protecting its product. A league full of immature, underdeveloped, overwhelmed teenagers is bad for basketball.

A Spanish team full of Americans is bad for Spanish basketball. Sure, the talent level might be better. But where are the young Spanish players to go? They still can’t compete with the Division I college stars that can’t make the NBA, or the developmental league.

The exception has been the Greek superteam Olympiakos, which once boasted NBA players Josh Childress and Linas Kleiza. The latest reports are that the team can no longer afford to cover players’ income taxes. The Greek financial crisis has crippled the squad.

Outside the powerful Greek clubs, the newest trend has been for aspiring American NBA players to skip college for Europe. Such was the case for Brandon Jennings, who realized his dream when he signed with the Milwaukee Bucks. It didn’t work out quite as well for ex-San Diego High superstar Jeremy Tyler, who actually decided to forgo his senior high season to play ball overseas. Tyler’s Israeli experience was a complete failure.

If the European leagues were to open up their rosters, there’d be many more Jennings and Tylers filling up the spots. 

A two-player limit is a nice compromise. It allows the very best American prospects to play in a competitive environment. If those prospects are high profile, it brings fans into the stands and sells jerseys. But it also allows enough room for young underdeveloped European players to get in the game.

The Spanish, Greek and United Kingdom Leagues are not the NBA — where international players help fuel an exploding global brand.

Nevertheless, there are thousands of international teams that welcome American players — many, like Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Austria, have no limits. There are plenty of places for American players to play.

Even the Ron Rons of the world.

To reach writer Daniel Watson, click here.

Sign up for Neon Tommy's weekly e-mail newsletter.



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.