All of the champagne bottles have been popped, all of the confetti has been dropped and the World Champion victory parade through Miami has been completed without LeBron getting decapitated by one of the bridges along the parade route, so another NBA season is in the books. Are the Miami Heat really the World Champions? I know that they beat a San Antonio Spurs team that has the most international NBA roster containing players from the USA, U.S. Virgin Islands, France, Argentina, Brasil, Australia and Canada, but does make Miami the best team in the world? The NBA is certainly the most advanced and the highest revenue-generating league in the world, but does that make it the most competitive league in the world?
Although the USA is the birthplace of basketball, it is not the only place that it is played at a high level. Let us not forget the 1992 Croatian silver medal team made up of NBA players Drazen Petrovic, Toni Kukoc and Dino Radja that played extremely well against the U.S. Dream Team losing by the narrowest margin in the 1992 Olympics (32 points) or the 2004 Argentine Olympic Gold Medal Team made up of NBA players Carlos Delfino, Andres Nocioni, Manu Ginobili, Fabricio Oberto, Walter Hermann and Luis Scola or the 2004 Italian Olympic Silver Medal Team that had ZERO NBA PLAYERS. Yes, you read that correctly. To remind you of recent history, the USA got the Bronze Medal in 2004 and lost to Italy and Argentina. It is amazing how little that part of basketball history is discussed in the USA.
If we are going to discuss basketball outside of the USA, there is only one other place where it is played at an extremely high level, Europe. Well, Europe is a continent and not a country, so where in Europe, right? Almost every nation in Europe has its own national league. There is no uniformity in the number of teams or the stature of each nation’s professional league. Nearly all of the leagues have the system of promotion and relegation. To put it in terms that the average NBA fan could understand, imagine that the two worst performing NBA teams each season were demoted to the NBA D-League and were forced to play as a D-League team until eligible for promotion. That is relegation. Promotion would mean that the top 2 NBA D-League teams would get promoted to the NBA each season. Relegation would certainly be a very strong incentive against LeBron Bowl or Stink for Wiggins campaigns.
The most important leagues in Europe are found in the following nations – Turkey, Spain, Italy, Greece, Israel and Russia. Americans should have some familiarity with some European basketball teams like Maccabi Tel Aviv or CSKA Moscow. Maccabi Tel Aviv has been the one time home of the following NBA players — Jordan Farmar, Jeremy Pargo, Tom Chambers, Omri Casspi, David Benoit, Will Bynum and Anthony Parker. In 2005, Maccabi Tel-Aviv became the first European team to beat a NBA team, Toronto Raptors, and it happened on North American soil. To give some insight into Maccabi’s dominance, it has won the national league in Israel 50 TIMES!
Another famous moment in European basketball that should have captured the American hoop fan’s attention was this hugely popular video of a game in the Adriatic league — Cibona vs. Partizan Belgrade. It has one of the greatest endings in basketball history. It speaks for itself. Enjoy!
The winners of the various national basketball leagues as well as teams picked using other criteria play in an annual 24-team competition called the Euroleague. The winner of the Euroleague is the continental champion of Europe. The two-time reigning champion of the Euroleague is a team from Greece, Olympiacos Piraeus.
Olympiacos (pictured above) has been led the past few seasons by former NBA first round pick, Acie Law IV as well as Vassilis Spanoulis, and Kyle Hines. The Euroleague has been increasing in popularity. In fact, NBA 2K14 released by video game producer, 2K Sports, will include 14 Euroleague teams. Basketball video game junkies will have the ability to develop greater familiarity with Euroleague players. The Americans who play abroad should start to feel less isolated.
The Americans who have played abroad have managed to develop nice lives for themselves. In fact, Deron Williams played for Turkish club Besiktas during the 2011 lockout and was reportedly paid $200,000 per month for his time in the league. Besiktas was the same club that Allen Iverson played for during his failed attempt to resurrect his professional career abroad. One thing that should be clear from this blog post — European basketball is growing rapidly. Don’t believe me, then you should believe the NBA General Managers as 14 European players were selected in the 2013 NBA draft.
If the NBA were smart, it would agree to have an annual game between the NBA champion and the Euroleague champion. The winner of that game would have a better claim to the title of World Champion. That is one game that I would definitely watch!