The NBA is trying to walk a fine line. On the one hand, the league and its owners want to globalize the NBA — it is the best, most watched basketball league on the globe and they want people in Europe and Asia to follow the NBA the way American soccer fans follow the Barclays’ Premiere League. That will make the owners more money, and never forget this is a business first, second, and third. With that, the owners allow players to compete for their native countries in major events, such as the FIBA World Cup or Olympics.
However, there is a “club vs. country” tug of war in the NBA. Players want to represent their countries — and sometimes are pressured to do so — while NBA teams see injury risk. They look at the story of Dante Exum blowing out his ACL playing for Australia as a cautionary tale.
So when the Cavaliers’ Jordan Clarkson wanted to play for the Philippines in the Asian Games (his mother is a native of that country, so he is allowed), the NBA shot it down at first saying this tournament was not part of the agreement between FIBA and the NBA that allows the league’s players to take part in major international events (the Olympics, the basketball World Cup, etc.). However, the league eventually flipped and allowed a “one-time exception” for Clarkson (plus Houston’s Zhou Qi and Dallas’ Ding Yanhuyang).
Now Clarkson says he wants the NBA to allow players to compete in more global events, he told Agence France-Presse at the Asian Games.
“After being told no so many times, I refused to give up. I kept fighting,” he said. “I’m here now, ready to compete.”
“I think they get the point — in Asia kids are picking up a basketball. I feel like the NBA is allowing us to do our thing.”
Basketball is a growing sport in Asia — it’s huge in the Philippines already, and it’s growing fast there and in countries such as China. The NBA wants its foot in the door there. It wants to be part of that market — the NBA plays exhibition games in China every year for a reason.
The Asian Games — the second largest multi-national sporting event in the world behind the Olympics — is a good exception to make. Clarkson and other NBA stars playing there — including in the future — is good for the NBA.
However, the league is going to face a challenge trying to find that line in future years between promoting the game and the NBA internationally and protecting its investments in its players.