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America’s greatest export? basketball players

by Archives November 13, 2007

Recently in a brightly-lit gym in Rotterdam, Holland, I had my first taste of European basketball. I was looking forward to seeing towering Dutch athletes (the Dutch are the tallest people in the world, after all) and hear players yelling in languages I couldn’t distinguish. But as I flipped through the game’s program and noticed familiar last names -Richardson, Jones, Wells, Stevenson-I realized that the United States’ leading export may be something I hadn’t imagined: basketball players.
Of the twelve players on the Rotterdam Challengers roster, four were Americans. Their opponents, the Den Bosch Eiffeltowers, had half of their players hailing from the States.
As I watched the supposedly European contest unfold, I couldn’t help but wonder where did all these American players come from. Were they coming straight from the NCAA? Division I? II? Or maybe even III? What was the transition like for them to come from the States to the Netherlands? And were they someday hoping to make it to the NBA, or was that hope shattered long ago?
Realistically, it probably shouldn’t have been so surprising to see as many Americans on the court. Making it to the NBA, even from a Division I NCAA team, is no easy task, especially when you look at it from a statistical standpoint.
There are 30 teams in the NBA, all of which have a twelve-player active roster. NCAA Division I basketball alone encompasses a little over 300 teams. In all, 360 players play in the NBA at one time, while ten times that amount play Division I basketball. Add to that players from NCAA Division II and III, high school stars like Kobe Bryant or Lebron James who decide to skip college altogether and go pro after their senior proms, and a multitude of international players who are all also vying for those few NBA spots, and you have quite the little hill to climb.
Logic dictates that not every American player is going to step out onto the hardwood at Madison Square Garden or Los Angeles’ Staples Center. Even those lucky college players that get drafted to the NBA aren’t guaranteed playing time.
And what about the United States’ neighbors to the North? Not surprisingly, Canadians have an even smaller chance of making it to the NBA. In fact, only 17 Canucks have laced up their high-tops professionally, strange considering that basketball was invented by a Canadian.
Of course, the most notable Canadian NBA player is Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns. The two-time league MVP (2004-05, 2005-06) and five-time NBA All-Star is considered to be one of the best point guards in the league.
Other Canadian players that left their mark in the league include Rick Fox (winner of three championships with the Los Angeles Lakers), Todd MacCulloch and Jamaal Magloire.
Last year, the Concordia Stingers’ men’s baskeball coach John Dore told me that “if [CIS All-Canadian Center] Pat Perrotte was 6’5″, he’d be going to the NBA next year.” Well, Perrotte wasn’t 6’5″ (he stood an albeit impressive 6’2″, 215 lbs.) and accordingly, he isn’t in the NBA today. But had he been blessed by those extra three inches, would his chances of making it to the NBA have improved that dramatically? It’s doubtful. The numbers just aren’t in his corner, and although Disney has taught us all to never discount an underdog, we must be realistic.
So maybe the opportunity to play professional basketball in Europe isn’t so bad after all. It gives players the chance to continue their careers, and get paid for doing what they love. Plus, high quality basketball leagues aren’t solely found in the States. (Spain, Italy and Greece immediately come to mind when thinking of high-level international basketball.) And ultimately, for the Americans (and Canadians!) who don’t make it to the NBA, the possibilities are only an ocean’s length away.like in a gym in Rotterdam, for instance.

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