It’s basically every basketball player’s dream growing up in the US to play in the NBA. But only a few select players make the League every year. Many more end up playing professionally elsewhere – whether in the D-League, other minor leagues, or playing overseas.
As the summer starts to wind down, many professional (or aspiring professional) basketball players have to make crucial decisions. Do you stay home in the U.S. and try to make the NBA, possibly play in the D-League, or do you head overseas for more guaranteed money? Here’s a great article about some of those choices basketball players have to make about playing overseas from this weekend’s New York Times.
NBA team usually gives some partially guaranteed money to players invited to training camp that have a chance to make the roster. Having no money guaranteed means a player doesn’t have a guaranteed roster spot. Typically, a non-guaranteed player will get a chance to show what he can do in camp and then will get an ‘A’ contract with that team’s D-League affiliate and work to be called up for a 10-day contract during the season. That gets him $25,000 for the season and a “shot” at being called up to the NBA during the season.
So besides the $25,000 and basically a stipend to go to training camp, nothing else is guaranteed. But beyond the money, these players are fighting for the dream to make it to the NBA. The odds are against those players, as every season there are only a few players called up from the D-League, but there is always a player or two who beat the odds and earn a guaranteed contract.
Example: Just this past season, former UNC Tar Heel James McAdoo had a bunch of lucrative offers in Europe but decided to rough it in the D-League instead. McAdoo established himself as one of the most promising big men in the league quickly. He was signed to multiple 10-day contracts starting in mid-January and then was signed for the rest of the season by the Golden State Warriors. He played in 15 regular season games, five post-season games, and won an NBA championship. And now the Warriors have invested in a longer contract with McAdoo.
While the NBA only has a few open spots each year, there are hundreds of well-paying spots available overseas.
When you go overseas, you need to establish your ‘brand’ as a player. Until you’ve proved yourself as able to contribute consistently on the court, you are an unsafe option to foreign teams. As players like Brandon Jennings, Robbie Hummel, and Kyle Singler know from experience, there will be questions if you can adapt to the style of play, culture, different language, many teammates not being American, the coach probably not being American, and other variables that go along with playing abroad.
Example: Even though DeShaun Thomas was drafted late in the 2nd round by the Spurs in 2013, Thomas went right overseas and played for the French Champ Nanterre. After a solid season, he parlayed his success into a job playing small forward for one of the biggest clubs in Europe, FC Barcelona. The decision to go to Europe immediately turned Thomas into one of the most valued players overseas quickly, and with a big payday.
So it all really comes down to what you are looking for in your career. Are you going to chase that dream of NBA at all costs, or are you prepared to build your career step by step, even if it means going overseas or toiling in the D-League?
All the best to all the ballplayers out there wrestling with these choices, and to those that hope to be there some day!