With seemingly no end in sight to the NBA lockout situation forthcoming, BallinEurope has to admit to enjoying the schadenfreude of the situation … just a bit. Even more exciting than the day-to-day speculation as more and more players from the big league consider their Continental options are the possibilities for the future: History has shown that inclusion of one American player can change the entire course of clubs, domestic leagues and even national programs.
While living in the present, BiE takes a look at the past with a virtual all-star team of guys from the ’States who have been great for the European game in one way or another. This quintet was chosen not necessarily for their skills and greatness, but for their impact on the game itself both in Europe and America – at least until Kobe Bryant decides to hop the Atlantic, heh heh…
5. Brandon Jennings, Lottomatica Roma. Though Jennings’ challenge of the NBA’s “prep-to-pro” rule written into the 2006 collective bargaining agreement hardly caused a stampede of talented high schoolers taking their talents to Europe, the truth is that BJ opened up this opportunity for any open-minded, mature and adaptable (Are you listening, Jeremy Tyler?) high-school player to develop quickly while earning a bit of coin. Plus BiE can’t help wondering if the rule won’t be negotiated during what looks to be a looooooooooooooooong negotiation process between league and players.
4. Dominique Wilkins, Panathinaikos/Fortitudo Bologna. Though Dominique’s stints in Europe in the late 90s may have been one part interest and four parts petulance, there’s no denying that a) his performance in 1995-96 goes down as one of the memorable individual efforts in Greek basketball and Euroleague history, and b) PAO management learned the significance of taking on NBA players to improve the roster.
Ironically, ’Nique’s departure from the team after the Euroleague championship victory caused an about-face by Panathinaikos management. Breaking up the Wilkins-led all-star roster for 1996-97 directly led to the last time any true parity existed in Greece as teams such as PAOK Thessaloniki and AEK Athens challenged for domestic championships before decade’s end.
3. J.R. Holden, CSKA Moscow/Team Russia. BiE maintains that Holden should be a first-ballot FIBA Hall of Famer based solely on his Euroleague career with the Red Army. The All-Euroleaguer for the 2000s made CSKA perhaps the top European club of the last decade in leading his team to two Euroleague championships, two second-place finishes, eight EL Final Four appearances, nine Russian league titles and four Russian Cups in his nine seasons at PG with the team.
However, it’s surely Holden’s play in the 2007 Eurobasket tournament that will forever endear him to Russian basketball fans. Together with tournament MVP Andrei Kirilenko, Holden led his national side to a memorable upset of mighty Team Spain with veteran leadership, clutch shooting and some stifling D.
Subjectively speaking, BiE can think of few other players who so perfectly managed to integrate post-Jordan American playmaking with classic European teamwork-first b-ball to create a truly unique style all his own. Besides, how many basketballers have received the benefits of a special national government-level decree by Vladmir Putin himself? Holden retired this off-season, and he will be missed.
2. Tal Brody, Maccabi Tel Aviv. Talk about influential. This yankee’s affect on Maccabi Tel Aviv and Israeli basketball in general (and note that Maccabi Tel Aviv is a European superpower notable enough to have been inducted into the Professional Basketball Hall of Fame in America) goes far beyond mere X’s and O’s; hell, the man attracted the attention of national leaders and is now guaranteed immortality with at least a footnote in Israel history textbooks.
Though drafted by the Baltimore Bullets, Brody never played in the NBA and instead got with Maccabi Tel Aviv for the 1966-67 season. Maccabi immediately ascended to the European Champions Cup final four round with Brody starting in the shooting guard spot. Military commitments returned Brody to the ‘States for a couple of years but he returned to Israel for good for the 1970-71 season and gained legendary states by guiding Tel Aviv to the European Champions Cup in 1977, part of the franchise’s first triple-crown season and the country’s first major championship in any sport.
His post-game comments preserved a spot in history proper when he declared, in the face of certain geopolitical pressure from the Soviet Union throughout the competition with specific reference to Israel:
Which is typically translated along the lines of “We are on the map, and we are staying on the map – not only in sports but in everything.”
Brody won the Israel prize for contributions to national sport in 1979 and, since retiring from basketball in 1980, Brody has worked with various youth basketball programs, was appointed goodwill ambassador of Israel in 2009 and has been inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame ’Stateside. If sports can truly be a geopolitical force, Brody is its international poster boy.
1. Deron Williams, Beşiktaş Cola Turka. This might be slightly premature, but BiE is assuming D-Will steps onto the court for the Eagles at least once in 2011. In so doing, Williams immediately becomes a key symbol of both the 2011-12 NBA lockout – an event that will perhaps become known as the most significant event of David Stern’s tenure as league commissioner after formation of the Dream Team in 1992 – and the growth of European club ball in the past 12 years.
Nenad Krstic himself, one of the first jumpers from the NBA to European ball for 2011-12, proclaimed that not many big league ballers would try their fortunes on The Continent – after all, look at what happened here vis-a-vis Atlantic player movement back in the 1998-99 lockout, i.e. next to nothing.
Williams’ decision, however, shows that not only is European basketball held in higher esteem on the other side of the ocean, hoops economics over here are also much improved since the ’90s. A bona fide NBA all-star in Turkey means more than Beşiktaş becoming a favorite to take the Eurocup title and compete fiercely for the TBL championship: It signifies that European basketball (and Turkish hoops especially) have come a long way.
So how about it, Kobe…?