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NBA "Player X"


Registered Member
For those of you who don't have ESPN the Magazine or ESPN Insider, each edition has a thing called "Player X" where a player from a given sport gives us an uncensored look into his or her sport.

THERE ARE A LOT of reasons the NBA should do everything in its power to avoid a lockout. But in my opinion, one stands out above the rest: Lock the players out and we'll leave, a lot of us, to play overseas. And many of us won't come back.

The recent trend of NBA-worthy players electing to play abroad won't go away. The rest of the world has a pretty decent standard of living, you know. Even in developing countries like China we can find some of the luxury we're used to, plus all the benefits of living in a new and exotic place. (Hey, even pro athletes are tourists at heart.)

Another thing is how forgiving many of the foreign leagues are toward the NBA's problem guys. Turkey (where Allen Iverson has been) and China (Stephon Marbury) won't be the last basketball-loving, star-starved nations to roll out a welcome mat for our troublemakers.

Money plays a big role too. I heard some Russians offered LeBron $30 million! Factor in favorable exchange rates, lower taxes, shoe deals and stuff, and there's a whole lot of money out there for the taking.

But the biggest reason for what will be mass defections to foreign leagues is what that will provide to our game. Let me tell you American basketball's dirty little secret: Our coaches are terrible. And not just in the NBA. Coaches across the whole game stink -- high school, AAU, college. They've grown fat on our natural athletic abilities, and they've gotten lazy. Nobody coaches fundamentals anymore. We might as well rename the NBA the AABA: African-American Basketball Association. (I'm black, by the way.) It's basically a very talented street-ball league. Americans simply can't dribble, pass, work the post or shoot the rock as well as our foreign counterparts, like Dirk Nowitzki. And their coaches get the credit for that.

Overseas, coaches still drill their players in the fundamentals and teach them how to play the game. A guy like the Pistons' Chris Wilcox -- who can barely dribble or shoot after all these years -- simply wouldn't slip through the cracks over there. Had he grown up in Europe, Wilcox, with his size and athleticism, would be a serious force. Players are beginning to realize that if they go overseas, even for a season, they'll come back with more skills, and that translates into greater success and better contracts back here.

I'm a big-name veteran, so my situation is a little different from Chris'. But if there's a lockout, I'm going overseas. A lot of guys are telling me they'll do the same. I've even heard a few top-10 stars, including Kobe and LeBron, are open to the idea. Whether or not those guys go, I predict that at least 15 percent of the NBA will be playing somewhere else if we call off the season. And some of them will stay there.

And while I'm making predictions, here are a few more: Within the next 10 years ...

1. The NCAA will suck. Thank Brandon Jennings for that. He skipped college for the Italian league, and now he's one of our top guards. More young ballers will follow his lead and get their educations later. Why work for free and let a school earn millions off you if you don't have to?

2. China will be NBA-lite. Each Chinese squad will have at least two former stars on it. Their ball is good, their contracts are generous, their people are friendly -- and a lot of them want to buy our shoes.

3. The NBA will have a five-team Euro division. It's one of David Stern's best ideas.

4. Half of every NBA roster will be foreign. Our players' association would probably push for more rules like the ones we see over there -- no more than two imports per NBA roster -- but it's inevitable. And that's fine because ...

5. The NBA will enter into a Golden Age. Basketball evolves. From its white-boy roots, it has incorporated style from the streets, as well as Europe. American ballers have to continue to adapt or risk becoming obsolete. Our big men will be the first to go. Tomorrow's bigs will look more like the Gasol bros. I get goose bumps imagining Dwight Howard with some of Pau or Marc's skills.

And I can't wait to play against them ... in Beijing.