In this 2nd part, I wish to highlight the growing nature of basketball as a “global sport”, influenced by the popularity of the NBA as well as its “open door policy” on allowing foreign-born players to compete in the league. These two factors must be recognized and embraced as an accepted fact — that the world and game of basketball is, indeed, already GLOBAL.
Article of Excuses
I recently read an article by a noted sportswriter who wrote about the lambasting we got from a tournament, the FIBA-Asia Club Championships, in which the All-Pro Philippine Team participated. We all know that Filipinos are known sour-grapes when it comes to losing in basketball. In that article, we got the usual litany of excuses as to why we got beaten badly. In fact, most of them were valid: unfamiliarity with international rules, lack of cohesiveness, and fatigue.
But what I could not accept, no matter how well-argued the point, is the inclusion of the overused, misused, and abused excuse for losing —– that we were up against teams that were powered by non-Syrians, non-Jordanians, non-Japanese, and non-so and so, and that we won’t stand a chance in future FIBA-sanctioned tournaments if these countries field in non-native players.
Okay, okay… The sportswriter has a valid point. It is but fair and proper for national teams to send citizens of their country to compete in international competitions. Rules are rules. There should be no two ways about that. Cheating must not be tolerated.
But what I am trying to drive at is this…. Let’s take care of business first — that of ensuring the improvement of the quality and level of play of Filipino cagers; training our attention and focus on making the Filipino basketball players stronger, more competitive, and more adjusted to international wars. If the price of ensuring these is by way of experiencing humiliating or bitter losses at the hands of foreign teams reinforced by imports, through one of so many ways, either by losing badly or by losing stupidly for being unable to close out games (that you’ve controlled and led for 39 minutes) or by getting banged up and beaten up with no trophies to speak of in the end, then so be it.
Never mind the underhanded tactics and ploys of other countries. Never mind the fact that their players were plucked from another country or another planet. Let FIBA take care of that.
Let’s focus on rebuilding. It’ll take time. A long time even. Other countries in our region took more than decades and scores to develop their players and enable same to be regional-class and world-class hoopsters.
NBA Taking the Lead
If there was a model or an approach worth emulating, then it would have to be what David Stern adopted for the NBA. Stern masterfully took advantage of the first major development that changed the world and the game of basketball (which I mentioned in Part I of this series) — FIBA’s decision to allow professional players to compete in FIBA-sanctioned tournaments —, and translated, what seemed like a tactical ingenuity, when he sent 11 Hall of Famers and an collegiate standout in Christian Laettner to Barcelona, to a deft strategic move that would thrust the NBA into worldwide popularity.
I consider the Dream Team’s participation in the Barcelona Olympics as the watershed event that catapulted the sport of basketball to worldwide recognition. A monster PR tool for the NBA, the Dream Team captivated the minds and souls and hearts of all basketball fans and non-fans alike. It was a coming out party for the NBA. And that was what Commissioner Stern needed — the attention of everyone.
Once Stern got that attention, off to work he went. He campaigned on further increasing the level of awareness of the NBA internationally to its current level of pervasiveness by employing the vaunted American brand of aggressive marketing, creating programs designed to educate people about the game, as well as encourage participation in the sport (e.g. Basketball Without Borders, Yearly NBA Games in selected countries), setting up NBA offices in international locations, inking deals and partnerships for the rights to broadcast the games and market NBA-related materials, holding of NBA pre-season tournaments like the inaugural 2006 NBA Europe Live, etc. The biggest coup for Stern would have been the selection of Yao Ming as the top pick in the 2002 NBA draft. With that move, Stern cemented the NBA’s foothold on mindshare for basketball in the world of sports (China alone can account for a major share of that).
The NBA’s ascendancy to worldwide popularity came at a most opportune time. The rise of the internet as a powerful medium of massive reach helped in the evangelization of the league as well as the sport of basketball. Proof of the internet’s power came to fore when Yao garnered the most number of votes in the 2003 edition of the NBA All-Star Game as the NBA allowed fans to vote online. No doubt, a large number of Chinese logged on to NBA.com and voted for their compatriot.
I am not privy to nor aware of the details behind Stern’s masterpiece strategy. In his 13 years of sitting as Commish for the NBA, Stern, oft considered to be the best commissioner in professional sports, has built an international empire sans the walls.
His efforts has opened up the NBA to more international players. As of March 2006, there were 83 non-US born players (both active and inactive), from 38 countries, in the rosters of the 30 NBA teams. There are an additional 50 players from around the world whose rights are held by an NBA team. In this year’s 2007 NBA Playoffs, there were 60 international players (coming from 28 countries and territories) who competed. In this year’s 2007 NBA Draft, we can count at least 13 international players drafted in the 1st and 2nd round. It is interesting to note that the earliest international player to be drafted in the 1st round was a Chinese — Yi Jianlian, a 20-year old, 6-11 Center from the province of Guangdong, China.
In terms of global reach, the NBA is now being televised in 212 nations in 42 languages.
Rise of New Basketball Powerhouses
If Commissioner Stern’s main agenda was to make the NBA a globe-spanning enterprise and a certified Multi-National Corporation (MNC), he has, most seriously, succeeded in accomplishing this.
I am quite sure that Stern, with his intelligence and foresight, knew that what he was doing was going to be good for basketball, in general… That his efforts of expanding the NBA’s influence and presence into every nook and cranny of this world could facilitate “technology” and skills transfer… and that by aggressively instructing the team owners and management of all 30 NBA Teams to draft, sign, and play foreign-born players, the positive reinforcement of this virtuous cycle will be achieved.
As a result, we have seen the rise to 1st place podium finishes for countries such as Yugoslavia (FIBA World Champions 1998), Serbia – Montenegro (FIBA World Champions 2002), Argentina (2004 Olympic Gold Medalist) and, quite recently, Spain (FIBA World Champions 2006), in less than a decade since the USA last won the FIBA Worlds in 1994 and the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
In a reversal of roles, it is now USA’s turn to aggressively recruit personnel from these new basketball powerhouses to learn the nuances of playing FIBA-style of basketball. A good example is the San Antonio Spurs who hired a member of Argentina’s Coaching Staff to be a consultant for the organization. I read this in an article on GQ Magazine that featured Manu Ginobili (Sorry, folks. I couldn’t remember the issue of GQ where I read this). The Spurs itself can be considered an “international team” by virtue of its penchant for drafting, recruiting, and keeping foreign-born players: Tim Duncan (US Virgin Islands), Tony Parker (France), Manu Ginobili (Argentina), Fabricio Oberto (Argentina), Beno Udrih (Slovenia), Francisco Elson (Netherlands), Tiago Splitter (Brazil — recently drafted), and Luis Scola (Spain — Spurs holds the rights to Scola as a player in the NBA).
If I may throw in a trivia… It was the Spurs who originally drafted the Brazilian Blur, Leandro Barbosa, 29th overall during the 2003 draft.
These developments, as spearheaded by Stern and the NBA, paved the way to the explosive nature of internationalization of basketball as a sport. Please keep these sets of developments and the consequential “model” that David Stern has crafted in mind as I will use same as my jump off points for the 3rd installment on the subject matter.
My next post will be about my humble sets of suggestion for the Philippine Basketball Powers that Be, and why we should take the route suggested…