Over the last few weeks, we’ve received a few interesting questions from Luke T. Johnson of the China Daily and we decided to make them open to the public. Here you go:
1. How have international teams from Europe and South America managed to close the gap on the US?
I am a huge European and South American basketball fan, but I would not say the gap is closed yet. In terms of marketing and especially investing into the sport, basketball in the United States is still a step ahead. Over here in Europe, you will only find basketball diehards to invest money into a team. If the team is not successful or if the investor does not like the decisions made by the coach or president, he pulls back and the club is no longer a top team. Since there is no draft in the NBA, the teams also do not get the opportunity to get great talented players like Cleveland’s Lebron James, who took his team to the NBA finals last year. In Europe, the best players are on the wealthiest clubs: CSKA Moscow, Panathinaikos, Real Madrid …
2. What has been the most significant factor (or factors) that has enabled the rest of the world to catch up with the US?
Basketball overseas has been made interesting for good basketball players mostly by the money they are able to pay now. Players that do not get that much playing time on a NBA team can become important players on Euroleague teams. This makes the sport more attractive to fans that follow the NBA mostly. With the recent wins of European teams against NBA teams in exhibition games, domestic fans have seen that it’s worth cheering for their home team again.
3. What do you think about the reported World Club Championships for next year? Will it actually happen? Will NBA teams compete? How would the Euroleague clubs match up against top NBA clubs?
The Word Club Championships will happen, simply because FIBA just announced so, but will it be successful? Will NBA teams and even Euroleague teams participate? Under the circumstances FIBA released this new championship, probably not. Neither the NBA or the Euroleague will participate with the schedule produced by FIBA; without the best teams from those leagues, it won’t be successful. Even if both leagues can agree on a better date, I doubt that we will see the matchup of CSKA Moscow against the 2008 NBA Champions – although I think this would be a very interesting game, if both teams play with they best players, but right now this is only a big dream.
4. As someone who seems to have seen a lot of both the NBA and Euroleague, how would you compare the two experiences — not just the game itself, but how popular it is, how fans react, the personalities of the players, the rivalries, and so on?
If you want to see passionate fans, come to Europe and watch the Euroleague. Actually you don’t even have to come to Europe. Last year’s NBA vs. Euroleague preseason games proved how passionate European fans are, when they filled the arena in Houston, Texas, for Panathinaikos playing the Rockets. Rivalries are more comparable to NFL rivalries, where some fans really hate each other and being a fan is not just putting on a basketball jersey and taking the kids to see a basketball game for two hours: You live your life for this club.
Another big difference between the NBA and the Euroleague: Players aren’t the most important and most known thing – it is all about the team. When Kobe Bryant, Lebron James and Kevin Garnett are the trademarks for the NBA, you will see names such as CSKA Moscow, Real Madrid or Maccabi Tel Aviv in Europe representing the league. This has been formed over the years through the basketball culture in Europe and reflects on how fans see teams: team basketball.
5. What do you think of the FIBA rule changes? How will this impact the global game?
Finally the NBA has no chance to complain anymore! Oh, I am sure they will complain that their ball is smaller … – no, I’m just kidding – both leagues will profit from these rule changes when it comes to national team play. Hopefully the European leagues will be able to adapt the rules quickly and we will see at least every first division team in Europe use them. Don’t forget: Only 30 NBA teams have to bring the three-point line closer, while thousands across Europe alone must – Time to open a business to print these lines on basketball floors!
6. Basketball outside of North America is known for its passing and team-first approach. Is there another explanation for the “international style” than just a foundation in soccer?
The explanation for the “international style” being linked to soccer is new, too. At least, I never though about it. In my opinion, the style played by European basketball teams is firstly linked to a different approach to the game. While the US system promotes the stardom and the 1-on-1 play through its rules and media, the European basketball doesn’t face this type of promotion. In Europe, you talk more about CSKA or Panathinaikos than about Ramunas Siskauskas or Dimitris Diamantidis.
With this “education,” European players don’t have much intention to develop into individual superstars. The fact that in younger years, the European player normally gets the whole package in terms of basketball fundamentals also favors this type of basketball. If you have centers that can pass, that gives a whole different game than a situation in which the big guys merely set picks and dunks.
7. Who do you predict will be in the final game in Beijing?
I think that Team USA will make it to the final. The second team to qualify is very difficult to predict because already you don’t know all the teams that will be there. But I think that Russia will have a good chance to qualify. I don’t think that Argentina is strong enough to qualify for the final, as their generation is getting older. The same goes for Greece. If Lithuania really gets Zydrunas Ilgauskas to play, they can also be contenders for the gold medal.
8. Are there any countries you think will be “surprise teams” in Beijing?
Here again, it is difficult to say as not all the teams are known so far. Angola can eventually be a surprise by beating some of the “established” teams as they did in the 2006 World Championships. Another team that can go for some surprising wins may be Australia, with a generation of young players growing in important roles.
9. Any else you’d like to add about the international landscape?
International basketball is closing the gap to the US basketball but the general basketball fan still considers US basketball way above. When you live in the United States, the fan is more concerned about high school basketball than the Euroleague. Even the losses of NBA teams in the preseason against Euroleague teams did not change the superiority complex of American basketball fans.