How the NBA Can Exploit the China Market, or, How the Cricketers Have Gotten to Me

Every since I was little, I have had an odd, reasonless passion for the game of cricket.  The only cricket that I have ever watched are highlights on Sky Sports News when it is simulcasted on Fox Soccer Network, yet this passion has remained in varying degrees throughout my entire life.  Recently, it has been reawakened, and have played trial versions of two cricket manager games, International Cricket Captain 2012 and Cricket Coach 2012.  (Just for the record that I prefer Cricket Coach because it has a much wider array of playable teams.)  Playing throughout those trial versions has led to a greater understanding of how the professional cricket league and international systems, which has also give me another one of my absolutely nonsensical ideas.  (See the recently-created tag “harebrained ideas” at the bottom for more.)

First, some background for how I got my nut-so idea.  In cricket, players do not play for just one team.  Like many Latin American baseball players, they play for one team in say, England, for half the year, and another in the Caribbean, or India, or Australia, in the other half.  In addition to these two leagues, there are two major Twenty20 leagues, the Big Bash League in Australia and the Indian Premier League.  (Twenty20 cricket is a limited-overs version that can be completed in about the same amount of time as a baseball game.  Each team tries to score the most runs in a 20 0ver (120 ball) innings.)  Some elite players, such as Jamaican Chris Gayle, play in as many as three or even, although I cannot specifically name a player who has done this, all four.

My idea comes from those Twenty20 leagues.  The Indian Premier League is immensely popular and has many of the world’s best player competing in it.  India’s lust for cricket comes at the expense of most of its other international teams.  India’s passion for this gentlemen’s game is similar to the immense popularity of basketball in China.

See where I’m going with this?

I believe that the NBA and the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) should consider creating a summer league in China that would act like the Twenty20 leagues, either in a 3-on-3 or a short-length 5-on-5 format.  Roster sizes would be five or eight players, respectively, and there could be safeguards ensuring that some of the players are either Chinese and/or play in the CBA.  (If I ran the league, I would have it be two native Chinese in a 3-on-3 or three CBA players with two native Chinese in the 5-on-5, while also ensuring that each “local” plays in every game for which they are active.)  I know that there are some rather obvious stumbling blocks, but here’s why I think that it could be a good idea:

  • It would be probably bring in a truckload of cash.  It is well-known that China loves basketball.  I read an article on Grantland, Bill Simmons’s website, that was an excerpt from a book covering a CBA team’s season.  Bonzi Wells was on the team, and him just being on the team made him a popular star.  While it didn’t turn out well for him, as Americans playing in China are expected to score ridiculous numbers of points, it does illustrate how enamored the Chinese are with American basketball players.  Imagine if Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James were playing for a whole summer?  Don’t think they would go?
  • Believe me, the players will come-if they’re not injured.  Big-time NBA players are all about expanding their brand.  I’m sure that there are several NBA players that have gone on visits to China during the off-season for this very purpose.  If they play in a league in China that would not affect their standing with the NBA, I’m sure they would go for it.  Besides,
  • They play basketball over the summer, anyway-they might as well get paid.  In order to stay in shape, NBA players work out over the summer.  Furthermore, NBA players’ paydays only officially occur during the season, although, if I am not mistaken, they can agree in their contracts to have their salaries prorated during the season.  (For information on the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Larry Coon’s NBA Salary FAQ at http://www.cbafaq.com/salarycap.htm is very useful and readable.)  This would be a great way for them to earn even more money (as if they need it).
  • Besides, it would be fun.  As I mentioned before, this would not be a hard-core, full-on basketball season.  The games would be shorter, maybe even 3-on-3, and there would only be about sixteen of them.  (I was thinking of maintaining the seventeen CBA franchises, with each team playing every other team once.)  Players typically enjoy games like this, from international tournaments to just hanging out in a charity game.  I would pretty sure that feeling would remain.
  • And last, but definitely not least, NBA GM’s get to check out the top Chinese players.  I mentioned earlier that there would be at least a couple of Chinese players on each team.  I say this because there is no way that the Chinese half of the negotiating table would let this league essentially turn into a foreign exhibition.  (It probably would anyway, but I digress.)  Perhaps surprisingly, I think that mandating having Chinese players on the team would be good for both sides.  For the Chinese, it’s obvious; it gives the players more exposure and experience against extremely high-level competition.  However, it also gives the NBA’s talent evaluators a great chance to see the best and the brightest from the world’s most populous nation in an extremely competitive environment, aside from international tournaments which are short and where either China is clearly dominate (the regional ones) or just plain old mediocre and therefore eliminated early on (the Olympics and World Championships).  That sounds like a good deal to me.

Now, I am going to discuss some of the cons, as no good proposal can be made without at least pretending to discuss the cons.

  • The players will get injured.  The NBA has a contract clause called the “Love of the Game” clause, which basically says that a player can play wherever he wants during the offseason.  How is a player playing in a mini-league in China significantly different from playing in the Drew League or just at the local rec center? It might be a higher level of basketball, but that would mean that the players are in better shape.  Whenever an owner complains about this, I want to tell him to shut his mouth-he’s whining and just being annoying.  If you don’t like it, you can always sell your team to someone who doesn’t mind.
  • It will affect/be compromised by the international tournaments.  I say, “Probably not,” to the first and, “Who cares that much?” to the second.  The players who are good enough to play in the international tournaments are probably still going to play in those tournaments-unless they’re injured, in which case they wouldn’t be playing in this mini-leauge, either.  Furthermore, there are only about forty NBA players at the Olympics.  Big-name players who weren’t there include Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Jeremy Lin, Paul Pierce, and Chris Bosh, let alone injured players who may have opted for a lesser tournament.  Rajon Rondo, who was neither an Olympian nor injured, sold more jerseys than any NBA’er not named Kobe, Rose, Howard, or James.  Even in the even-numbered major tournament years, there is plenty of talent and marketability to go around.
  • The NBA stars won’t come.  Like I mentioned earlier, I have reason to believe that they will come.
  • The short games will be considered tacky and hurt ticket sales.  For one, they don’t have to be short games; I just thought that it would be a nice marketing ploy to both fans and players, as well as part of a unique charm for the organization.  They can be full-length five-on-fives with twelve-man rosters (in which case I would recommend having five CBA’ers and three “natives” per team).
  • It would be very easy for everything to go wrong, from the business model to empty seats.  I’m just an idea man, and this would never happen.  However, you could have players buy “stock”, a percentage of either the revenues or operating profits, in the team for use as their salary, or a financial fair play system could be used where teams can only use a portion fo their revenues for player salaries.  The latter idea has been bandied about in soccer circles quite a bit, and I think it is an excellent idea if done correctly.  Believe me, if anyone ends up willing to give this a shot and invest money in it, then you better imagine that they would put a lot of time and effort into ensuring its success.
  • No one in the United States would care.  So what!  The main points for the league would be to increase the NBA brand in China and give NBA players a safe, lucrative place to play over the summer, probably in that order.  If my predictions are correct, it would make so much money that it wouldn’t matter if not a single American watched a game on TV or followed it at all.

If this league succeeds, it could lead to spin-off versions in Europe, even greater basketball popularity in China, and increased revenue for the NBA players.  I say this is a win-win-win for everybody, especially if the NBA gets on board.  Of course, the NBA would have to get on board to let the top players play, but absolute power corrupts absolutely, and money talks.  (Sorry for the cliches, but you get the point.)  Thank you for reading, please comment, and please come back.

P.S. For those of you who have contributed to my 401 views in the six or so months that this blog has been up, I apologize for not having posted in about a month.  It’s not that I have been lacking ideas, it’s just that my meager viewing totals and the natural flow of time have led to it becoming a chore to write articles for this.  Hopefully, my viewership will increase, which would also make my posts frequent and enthusiastic once again.  Thank you.

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