Overseas Basketball Is A Shady Industry [Sometimes]
Commentator James asked a question about overseas basketball money that some of you may also have wondered about.
Q: “Once a player is signed and playing with a team overseas, are you aware of teams in any of the leagues not making payroll, and not being able to pay their players? Is that very common? And if so, are their specific leagues where it’s more common than others?”
This is a legitimate question. I’ll share the response I gave to his comment, his follow-up question and my response to that, then expound on this topic below.
A: “Sure that can and has happened in many places, at times. That’s a bridge you’d have to cross when you get to it, however, and a much healthier problem than not being signed at all.”
Q: “I guess my next question would be how would you check out a team to know if they had the money they were offering you on the contract you were about to sign? There would’t be much to singing a contract, getting overseas, playing if the team doesn’t have the money to fulfill the contract. Even if their intentions are good. Are there checks and backgrounds we can do, like we have here in the US? Before signing? I’m asking because I potentially have 2 options and I’d like to make sure both are financially stable, but not sure how to go about doing that. I would appreciate any input you have.”
A: “That would be similar to asking how you know your fiancé won’t cheat on you after the wedding, and if there’s a way to get the guarantee before tying the knot.
And, just because a team has the $$$ doesn’t guarantee they’ll give it to you even if it’s owed to you. Professional basketball does not have these assurances; you accept these realities when you decide to get in the game.
The only employer I know of who absolutely guarantees your money is the US government, because they’re the ones who print the money. Anyone else, the odds are somewhere south of 100%.”
Playing basketball is a job; anyone who works wants to be sure they’re paid for their work — especially if there’s a contract in place that explicitly states that you will be. And, I’d assume from James’ concerns, that he’s heard about some players having to hunt down their money from a Pro Basketball employer — some players doing so unsuccessfully.
First things first: It’s true. There have been cases of players not getting paid and never recovering that money. If this fact gives you reason enough to say, Playing overseas is not worth it, stop reading now — also, make sure to never:
- Drive or ride in a car
- Get on a plane
- Trust anyone
- Get married
- Ride an elevator
- Go to a public place with lots of people, such as an outdoor festival or shopping mall
- Eat food which you didn’t grow and prepare yourself
- Walk into a building which you didn’t build with your own hands
- Cross a street at a traffic signal
— Because there are thousands of documented cases of people entering all of the above situations having it end badly. Such is life.
I never had the getting paid problem as acutely as some basketball players that I’ve heard of; I know players who’ve had to hire lawyers and actually fight court cases to get their money (and players who’ve threatened to do so just to move teams to action). The only place I had to hunt people and money was in Mexico; this was more due to the specific individuals I was involved with than it was due to the country or the league itself.
As I said in response to James, though: Pro Basketball Overseas, especially if you’re playing in leagues that aren’t the top (Euroleague, Eurocup, etc) and best-funded leagues, is an unregulated space that can have a Wild West feel to it, at times. There is no union or player’s association for overseas players. This means, if you don’t have an agent (or a good agent), no one is fighting on your behalf for anything. You’re on your own.
If this makes you feel, as James intimated, that playing overseas is not worth it, don’t play. The leagues, camps, signings, games and yes, payments, will continue with or without you.
The players whom I know, and most of the players who come to me asking questions about playing overseas, look at playing ball the way I looked at it: As a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play the game you love at the professional level. Yes, you want to be paid, of course, maybe even paid a lot, but for many players at the levels described, playing pro ball is not a money-maximizing decision, and the (prospect of not getting) money has never been a reason to not move forward.
I have a business degree from Penn State University; I could have gotten a “regular” job via my degree and made a higher and more stable salary out of college than what I made working at Foot Locker and Bally Total Fitness combined, or in one of my early pro deals. Basketball meant more to me than just the dollar amounts (though I fully expected, and received, remuneration). To get my foot in the door, there is very little that I wouldn’t have done.
If one team agrees to, but doesn’t have the money to, pay you, that means they believe you’re worth it — which means you’re good enough to get that same deal from another team. There are a lot of teams out there.
My perspective on securing my money in Overseas Basketball was a bit different from some others: If a team had failed to pay me, as James is concerned with, fine — I’d take my up-until-then performance and market myself as an available player who’s proven himself, is ready to play, and is already in Asia/South America/Europe (meaning a quick trip to wherever I’d need to go, and lower cost of acquiring me for the next team). I’d move on, and still do my best to collect what I was owed from the deadbeat team.
If you can play, the money will find you.
Here’s a reality regarding this straw man money concern, one that I’ve heard many a player use as a convenient excuse for their lack of a pro basketball resume: Unless you’re a big name in the basketball world, a team can find another You faster and easier than you can find another Team. They’re evaluating your ability just as much as (probably more than) you’re evaluating them; if the relationship sours, your replacement will arrive as soon as the next day.
How soon can you find another contract?
Life, especially the unregulated professional-basketball-outside-of-the-USA life, doesn’t come with guarantees that everything will work out. That’s what makes it life. If you want your paycheck absolutely guaranteed, get a job with the U.S. government. Anyone else could one day go out of business and be unable to make payroll (hell, even the government, for that matter).
Playing pro basketball is not the normal work world — I thought that’s what you wanted?