First, let me start by saying that I am a team guy. I loved playing a team sport. I loved coaching a team sport. I think I could have never been an individual athlete. I NEEDED the team. I am far from a selfish dude as my former teammates and former players can attest to…BUT…in terms of European basketball, the quote in the picture is in my humble opinion, bullshit (excuse my French)! Let me explain. In the NBA, professional soccer all around the world, and many other team sports, the contracts are much longer than in European basketball. In other sports, many players have the opportunity to play on one team for a much longer period of time, which in turn, leads to that player (even foreign players) becoming invested in the team, the city, and the culture where he or she plays. If you play and live someplace a few years and you have your support system there, or your children possibly grew up in that city, you will automatically form a bond with that team. That situation in European basketball, however, is very rare. There are VERY few players that stay many seasons with the same team. There are no Kobe, Dirk, and Tim’s as foreign players in Europe. Foreign players in Europe are more likely to be Chucky Brown, Jim Jackson, Joe Smith, and Tony Massenburg who all played for 12 NBA franchises. I played on nine teams in my 13-year career playing in Europe. Even one of the greatest players in soccer, Lionel Messi, left FC Barcelona after playing a total of 21 years in their club.
I do not have the exact figures, but I would go out on a limb and say that in European basketball, 80% – 85% of the players change teams after the first season. Why is that? One factor is surely that teams offer their foreign players short-term contracts of one season unless you are an established player. If you are lucky, you might get a 1 plus 1 contract…meaning one season with a possible second, usually with the team holding the rights for the option. Because there is an abundance of players on the market, teams are more likely to move on from a player, especially if that player’s contract demands do not fit the budget. Teams can always find players for less money. As a foreign player in Europe, you are much easier to replace than in other sports. Although the popularity of basketball is continuously on the rise in Europe, it still ranks far behind many other sports. I recently read a study that said that between 2018-20202, basketball ranked 20th in the most popular sports in Germany behind such sports as Soccer (1), Swimming (10), and even Tobogganing (19)! The surplus of foreign players, and the lack of long-term contracts, are contributing factors in players changing teams often, but there are also other factors.
So when did it change? I believe for most foreign players in Europe, the name on the back of the jersey becomes more important than the one on the front, as soon as they sign on the dotted line of their first professional contract in Europe. In college, many players feel a strong identity with their school, but when basketball becomes your job in Europe, you quickly begin to see that the sport you love is a business, and you are expendable. So how do you handle this change? Each person has their own motivational factors, but the common theme is that each day in Europe, you are not only practicing and playing for a team, but also your next contract. You are practicing and playing for your future salary. You are playing and practicing for your family. You are playing and practicing for the unseen eyes that are watching you and trying to determine if you would fit on their roster in the future. Most importantly though, you are playing for yourself! Don’t get me mistaken, I am not calling for foreign players to play selfishly. You have to find balance in how you handle this realization. I am only giving my opinion based on what I have experienced, and what I still see today, long after I have retired from playing and coaching. I made a conscious decision to play in different countries so that I can experience numerous cultures because that was important to me. Your motivation is probably different. I applaud any player that can play on the same team for a long time, just understand that it is unlikely while playing professional basketball in Europe.
Thank you for taking the time to read my words!