Oh my, everyone is all excited about Atlanta's Josh Childress signing with Olympiakos of Athens. Hey, $20 million over 3 years (tax free? enjoy, enjoy!) isn't bad by anybody's standards, particularly for a perennial 6th man. And that's not all: Brandon Jennings, a non-qualifier for Division I from Oak Hill Academy, is headed to Virtus Roma, where he will undoubtedly spend a mandatory one year before heading back to the NBA.
In a recent column, Fox Sports' (and Tacoma's - say hi to Mom and Dad!) Mike Kahn wrote about the new west to east direction of international basketball, citing not only the examples of Childress and Jennings, but a number of other examples (Splitter, Delfino, Nachbar, Navarro, etc.). He makes an interesting point that the ridiculous amounts spent on superstars that strangle the NBA salary cap for mid-range players coupled with tight restrictions on young players under the cap's rules (not to metion the strong Euro/awful dollar) are creating a more attractive atmosphere in Europe for signing quality players.
Unfortunately, I'm not sure Mike's analysis translates into a lot more Josh Childres's heading over to Europe for a very simple reason: the money being provided for these big contracts are coming almost solely from a few individuals/oligarchs with some very specific teams - and I can count them on one hand: Oympiakos and Panathinaikos of Athens; CSKA Moscow and maybe Dynamo Moscow and Kimchi (suburb of Moscow). The funding for European's professional basketball teams for the most part still comes from corporate sponsors whose ability and desire to subsidize what is still in almost all cases a losing operation, will ultimately always be limited.
For those few individuals and oligarchs who have endless reels of cash, sure, $10-20 million and a lot more is just a drop in the bucket, but ultimately even very rich people get tired of pouring money down a drain and moreover, these teams are ultimately often just playthings for them - and anyone with kids knows that people get tired of playing with the same toys all the time. I have seen these kinds of individuals come and go now in European basketball for well over 20 years, and ultimately the answer to increasing interest in basketball in Europe is not by finding more oligarchs, but by creating the commercial atmosphere that will encourage investors and companies to put money into creating an attractive - and profitable - product.
Whether that can actually ever happen in European basketball is still a big unknown. The Euroleague and FIBA have made some nice strides in visibility, television rights and merchandising, and the web site content and technologies are quite impressive, but the quality of the product suffers from poor infrastructure, i.e. basketball stadiums, across the entire continent. The subject of arenas is really a separate piece, but it is absoutely incredible when you stop and think that the biggest basketball gym in Russia is in Kazan (cap. 7,100) and that one of Europe's top 3 teams, CSKA Moscow plays in a gym that holds only 5,000. Olympiakos plays in the absolutely awful Peace and Friendship Stadium, which seats 15,000, but has a velodrome encircling the court and fans sit miles away. Basketball in Europe is also still competing with soccer and a host of other sports, as well as 45 top-level European players who have opted to play in the NBA. Needless to say, for every one Josh Childress going to Europe, there are dozens more who still want to go the other way.
As to Brandon Jennings, it could be that there will be a few more like him in the future, as players could opt for making a lot of money in Europe instead of going to college for one year before they can be eligible to play in the NBA; but it's not so simple to take an 18 year old and uproot him into a foreign country with a foreign language and onto a professional team, where they virtually have to take care of themselves, as opposed to a Division I school where they are coddled and taken care of in every way. I could be wrong, but I think we may see that Jennings will be the exception - and not the rule.