We all took the same high school history class that taught us that the United States emerged from World War II as a dominant industrial power with the world’s best economy and highest standard of living. But our dorky history professors who looked like, and frequently were, hung-over versions of Santa Claus forgot to mention the true consequence of this economic takeoff: American sports became dominant.
The best basketball players were all born in America. The best football players all came from Florida. The United States bought the best baseball players from Latin America and the best hockey players from Canada. The only sport America failed at was soccer, because Americans care about soccer as much as Toad’s cares about underage drinking.
Slowly, sports globalized. But America’s dominant economy allowed the Yankees to acquire Hideki Matsui from Japan and the Spurs to hunt down Manu Ginobili. The best athletes from all around the world played their hearts out in their home country in hopes of someday playing for the prestigious American professional leagues and earning massive salaries.
The NBA, NFL and NHL knew they had the market cornered. They aimed to limit the salaries of their players to increase profits. These leagues had a monopoly on professional sports, and introductory economics taught us that monopoly guys wear monocles. OK, I may not know much about economics and monopolies, but it seemed that these leagues used their advantage to maximize profits.
The fans took American sports for granted. They assumed that superstars from other lands like Pau Gasol and Ichiro would continue to dream of playing in America. They, like Mike Tyson, assumed the good times would continue forever and decided to keep tigers as pets.
Then something happened. Just as Americans never cared about soccer, the wealthy elite in other countries cared about little other than soccer. At some point, a select few individuals decided to bring their free-spending ways from the world of soccer to the realms of hockey and basketball. They challenged American hegemony of the sports world. The American sports world confidently responded like Russian President Medvedev during the Georgia Crisis and dismissively told the rest of the world “cross us and we will crush you.” But there wasn’t much to crush.
The erosions were almost unnoticeable at first. A couple players decided to stay in Russia when the NHL lockout ended. A few washed-up former NBA players who couldn’t find work found teams overseas. One high school kid — Brandon Jennings — decided to play professionally overseas instead of going to college in the United States. Who could blame him? He’s making money playing basketball while the rest of us are stuck in Introduction to American Politics. Playing basketball for money is number one on my list of “things I would rather be doing than sitting in Intro to AP.” The list currently has 983 entries, ending with “climbing Mount Everest in nothing but a thong.” Jennings might have made a good call.
But the American sports establishment viewed the problem like the American financial establishment viewed subprime loans: It’s not that big of a deal. Now we’re paying for both of those mistakes. NBA regular Josh Childress signed a massive contract with Greek basketball team Olympiacos this offseason, and their owners indicate that he is one of the first of a mass exodus of NBA players to Europe. They want to bring a superstar to European basketball, someone who understands how to spit on the concept of team basketball that makes European basketball distinct, like Kobe Bryant or LeBron James.
A superstar at the prime of his career leaving America for greener ($$$) pastures in Europe? What a farcical notion. That would never happen … to a superstar … like NHL perennial all-star Jaromir Jagr … who currently plays for Avangard-Omsk in Russia. So maybe it’s not so farfetched after all, according to the owners of Olympiacos, there are even bigger splashes to come.
So don’t let yourself be deluded into thinking that Josh Childress is the end of a trend. His precedent is almost as dangerous as Toad’s during a DMX concert. Or a shark attack. Or the simultaneous rise in China’s economic power and love of basketball we learn about in Intro to International Relations.
Collin Gutman is a junior in Pierson College.