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Playing Overseas: Why You Should Take It More Seriously

Updated on January 22, 2020

NBA! NBA! read all about it...

Does a dream of becoming a professional basketball player always end with the NBA? We have been conditioned to believe that the National Basketball Association is the pinnacle of a journey towards a sustainable professional career. The constant advertising around us within the news, television, social media, and even on our feet all reinforce the NBA branding; when Americans think basketball, they think “NBA.” All of our attention is drawn to it and its star players. Everyone dreams of achieving the level of accreditation of Lebron James. We crave success and desire recognition for it. Take Stephen Curry as an example. He is the face of one of the most prestigious teams in the NBA, has his own shoe line, and is spoken of more in China than the country’s own professional basketball players. Aside from the paparazzi mobs, Stephen Curry is the likely definition of a “successful basketball player” that the average high schooler has within their head. What sticks out to them isn’t his financial, family, or career success, but his fame. Would Curry be nearly as famous if he were an overseas player? Probably not, but being famous isn’t the only way to be successful. If you’re willing to sacrifice fame for more overall success in your career, the answer lies an ocean or two away.

Next stop: Iraq

It may or may not come as a surprise to you that there are a vast amount of professional basketball leagues outside of the NBA. The reality is that overseas leagues are severely underrepresented within the US; the NBA monopolizes the professional basketball scene. A frightening fact is that the majority of college players never reach the NBA. After the 2017-2018 NCAA season, only 52 out of 18,816 players were drafted by NBA teams, according to statistics from NCAA.org. While it is true that in a draft of 60 picks, more than 85% of the selected prospects came from the NCAA, 99.7% of NCAA participants were undrafted. Only 60 players, at most, in a year can be granted a full career in the NBA. This is not to say that only 52 out of 18,816 players were successful that year. Many players looked over the horizon in search of success. Brandon Givens is a former NCAA athlete who had no luck with the NBA, but still went on to form a sustainable career overseas. Givens is now a top player in Iraq’s Superleague, a state-run basketball program. According to The Journal, American players in the Superleague “earn as much as $20,000 a month making them among the highest paid public employees in Iraq.” On top of their generous salary, players are often highly respected by the locals. Abdel Jabbar Ibrahim, an Iraqi fan, says about the American players, “They are good role models and have great influence on our local players in terms of mentality, technical skills and morale.” All of this is up for grabs in an overseas country that likely wouldn’t be your first destination. Iraq is not the best option, but it is a better one than remaining undrafted or getting accepted into the D-league.

Foreign luxuries

The D-league, as you may have been led to believe, is the “junior NBA.” It’s a place where players develop and play until they are ready to get called up to the NBA. In practice, however, a very minuscule amount of players ever get called up to the actual league. Players are often stuck in the D-league for a very long time, and it has almost none of the desirable aspects that the NBA has. Darren Heitner, creator of SportsAgentBlog.com, says, “The worst part about basketball players staying in the USA and playing in the D-league is the fact that most D-league salaries range from only $12,000 to $24,000.” Referring back to Givens from earlier, a player in Iraq can make almost as much money in a month as D-league players make in a whole season. If that isn’t enough to sway you, consider this: Heitner also adds, “Average overseas players can get a $65,000 contract with ease. Depending on the league that players get into in Europe, salaries can start as high as $100,000.” You don’t have to be a star player, like Givens, to be better off playing overseas. An average contract is almost 3 times that of a D-league salary. Furthermore, overseas players get benefits that even NBA players don’t get to enjoy. An article on TheUndefeated.com lists, “There’s the opportunity to explore several countries abroad. A home and a car. There are free plane tickets for loved ones. And, perhaps most important, a guaranteed salary that’s tax-free.” Overseas agents are willing to work with their players to keep them content and ensure they feel safe and comfortable whilst on their overseas journey. The nature of being in a foreign country allows players to feel touristic while simultaneously holding a professional career in their back pocket. Players often explore these nations and wander around to adventure in the marvels that exist abroad. All of these perks are things which you will not find any NBA player boasting about.

Your journey, not their's

Overseas professional basketball leagues have plenty to offer when compared to America’s NBA. It is not, however, a perfect fit for everyone. Playing overseas also means residing overseas, at least for the length of the season. This means being away from friends, family, and significant others. Isolation from all of these important figures can be taxing on a freshly graduated player. If everybody that matters to you lives in the states, it is certainly easier to stay in touch with them by remaining nearby. However, going overseas doesn’t mean permanently cutting them from your life either. Truly passionate players will find ways to remain close with their loved ones, while also pursuing a career to build their legacy and their future. A successful career can be found within the states, or across the bodies of water surrounding it. No two journeys to success are the same; don’t compare yours to anyone else’s. Search for the path that makes you happy and not the one that satisfies the world. Success is relative; measures of success are not properly gauged by fame, money, or points-per-game, but rather by an individual’s feeling of accomplishment and fulfillment.

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