Remember Ademola Okulaja? In terms of college basketball, he is probably the most known German professional basketball player ever. He was on a North Carolina team with players like Antawn Jamison, Vince Carter, Ed Cota, Shammond Williams and Makhtar N’Diaye and was named MVP of the Tar Heels in his senior year.
Right now Ademola plays in Bamberg, Germany, while trying to keep the German national team alive – alongside Dirk Nowitzki, of course.
In a recent interview with the German sport magazine SportBild, Ademola and fellow national team member Patrick Femerling talked about what’s wrong with German basketball.
You have to give these two guys credit since for speaking up! For someone who follows the German league closely, it is obvious that something isn’t working right. The official statement from the German federation and the “BBL”: “Not enough fans – everything revolves around soccer!”
Ademola and Femerling disagree:
“When we play in Germany with Dirk in the summer, the arenas are always full. It can’t be that hard to motivate sponsors and fans, if they fill the arenas every time for preseason games! We think that there is much more potential in German basketball, but the German federation has so far done a bad job in using the “Dirk Era.”
Germany right now is not among the best 10 teams in Europe, there is no way to compare Germany to Italy, France, Greece, Spain or Russia. The reasons? According to Femerling and Okulaja (the latter has a fancy web site by the way), the German league officials are the reason.
“It is important that fans can identify with their players and right at this moment they just can’t because of the lack of German players. This season, only three guys had to be German – next season it will be four. That does not improve the situation. We need at least six players and two of them have to be on the court all the time.”
This rule is nothing new. Countries like Italy and Spain have played with the rule for years while producing players like Navarro, Gasol, Bargnani and now Gallinari: guys that go at least 25 minutes a game in their domestic league and Euroleague play.
In Germany, German players average about 0-5 minutes per game and are paid accordingly. They have to keep a second job besides basketball to ensure they can earn money at all after their “career.”
So who does play in the German “BBL”? According to Femerling, the clubs prefer to get “cheap $20,000 Americans that stay in the league for three months and then move on.”
Germany had a good chance to develop basketball into a national sport that is respected and broadcast on TV with successful national teams in 2001, 2002 and 2005 when Dirk & Co. were among the top four teams at the European Championship. Now, they have fight to get to the Olympics in a qualifying tournament in Greece this July.
With rumors of Los Angeles Clippers star Chris Kaman joining the German national team soon, German basketball has another chance to go “big.” We all hope the federation does not squander this chance again.