NBA looks internationally with G League Franchise in Mexico City

The NBA just showed everyone why it is the most dynamic league in sports with the announcement of its landmark partnership with the Capitanes, the first professional G League team outside of the U.S. and Canada. Between the NBA, NFL and MLB, all three associations have had an eye towards international expansion and have played games in Mexico, England, Japan, China and Australia in recent years. However, the NBA has become the first to officially open a franchise outside of the U.S.-Canadian markets. The Capitanes were established in 2016 and currently play in Mexico’s own professional basketball league, la Liga Nacional de Baloncesto Profesional, however will debut in the G League in the 2020-2021 season for an initial term of 5 years.

The possibilities with this move are endless and really allows the NBA to become creative in rethinking the G League and minor league basketball as a whole. For one, the Capitanes will be playing at the Gimnasio Juan de la Barrera in Mexico City which represents the largest media market in North America. The NBA can test this market for its viability for professional basketball, leaving the door open to a potential NBA league team in the future and could even become a two-team city like New York or Los Angeles down the road.

As evidence, for the fourth season in a row, Mexico City has been the host to two regular season games and saw the Mavericks and Pistons play this week in an event that underscored the global nature of NBA. Before the game, Luka Doncic, a Slovenian 20-year old who played for Real Madrid, addressed a crowd in fluent Spanish while representing a team from Texas. You can watch the clip here and instantly recognize the opportunity that exists for the NBA in Mexico.

A large part of the NBA’s appeal is its diversity, both domestically and internationally. It has been praised as the “industry leader among men’s sports for racial and gender hiring practices” by TIDES, the authority on diversity and ethics in sports, while also boasting players from countries around the world such as superstars Giannis Antetokounmpo from Greece and Joel Embiid from Cameroon as well as retirees like Yao Ming of China and Spain’s Pau Gasol. Interestingly enough, though Hispanic viewers represent 11% of the NBA viewership, outside of Dominican-born Al Horford and Argentina’s Manu Ginobli, Latin America is not known for sending much talent to the NBA. However, the league’s expansion to Mexico could inspire a generation of NBA hopefuls and the next Latin American-born star might be the spark that lights up basketball culture across the region.

This is exactly why a G League in Mexico now opens up so many possibilities for the NBA in the future. As it stands now, two of the NBA’s 30 teams, the Nuggets and Trailblazers, do not have a G League affiliate and instead send their developmental prospects to play on other G League teams. This is far from ideal given the lack of control they have over this development process, however the lack of uniformity could also allow the NBA to pivot completely from how G League teams are conceptualized.

Let’s get crazy for a second and imagine that the NBA adopts a structure similar to that of professional soccer in Spain and made tiers of teams that would be promoted and demoted based on season results. Thus, the NBA would represent tier 1, the G League would represent tier 2, and let’s say Mexico’s la Liga Nacional de Baloncesto Profesional (LNBP) would represent tier 3. The NBA could then introduce a tournament toward the end of the regular season for the bottom four teams and demote the loser of the bracket to tier 2, meanwhile champion of the G League would move up and take the spot of that losing team. The same would happen the last place team of the G League and the champion of the LNBP.

As wild as it is, it would completely take the incentive away from tanking, while adding another “playoffs” of sorts that avid NBA fans would tune in for. Moreover, the ability to reimagine G League teams lowers the barrier to entry for other G league teams that formerly would have needed to be an affiliate of an NBA team. It also allows the opportunity for a team like the Capitanes to have a chance to become an NBA team by winning the G League title and affords more market freedom to both the players and teams.  Again, the possibilities are endless but at the very least, ensure that the future of professional basketball is in good hands with Adam Silver’s focus on the international stage.

Quick note: Sending thoughts and prayers out to former NBA commissioner David Stern who underwent emergency surgery for a brain hemorrhage he suffered this week. Stern served as commissioner for 30 years and was instrumental in expanding the NBA from 10 franchises to 30 and broadening the NBA to a more global audience.

Daryl Morey and China’s Blacklisting of the NBA

Harden china

A snowball has turned into an avalanche for Daryl Morey and the NBA after the Houston Rockets GM weighed in on the current political climate in China this past week. A simple tweet, now deleted, lies at the heart of the controversy, as Morey posted an image lending support to the protestors in Hong Kong who are entering their 18th consecutive week of public demonstration. The unrest stems from a bill the Hong Kong government proposed that would allow authorities to detain and extradite criminal fugitives in the territory to mainland China. Protestors fear that this bill would subject Hong Kong residents and visitors to mainland Chinese jurisdiction, which the region is not currently under, jeopardizing the semi-autonomous status it received after the United Kingdom returned the area to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.

Days after the NBA showcased its first preseason game featuring the Rockets and the Shanghai Sharks, Morey’s tweet has fractured the relationship between the ever-expanding basketball organization and China. Since his post on October 4th, several Chinese businessmen have dropped ties with the Rockets, the Chinese Basketball Association has cancelled games with the NBA’s G-League affiliate, and China’s state-run CCTV has suspended broadcasts of all of the NBA’s preseason games, including those scheduled to take place in Shenzhen and Shanghai. The fallout has been swift and severe and has reportedly put as many as four billion dollars at stake, that includes a five-year, $1.5 billion deal with Chinese broadcast giant, Tecent, as well as other lucrative sponsorships.

The Rockets, who have long been “China’s team” thanks to Yao Ming, have certainly tried their best to rectify the situation to no avail. Hours after the initial post, Rockets owner, Tilman Fertitta, took to Twitter to distance the team from Morey, emphasizing, “@dmorey does NOT speak for the @HoustonRockets” and, “we are NOT a political organization.” The ownership even mulled firing the general manager, who has been responsible for three-straight 50+ win seasons, as a means of alleviating the situation. Morey, for his part, apologized on Twitter, distancing his opinions from the Rockets and NBA, and even James Harden offered his own apology on behalf of his GM.

The NBA also weighed in with a similar lack of success and additional controversy. Sunday night, the league released statements, one in English, the other in Chinese, that conveyed subtly differing messages: the former as an apology of Morey’s stance and the latter as a strong rebuke. Of course, this discrepancy did not go unnoticed and drew a loud reaction within the U.S. as many saw the Chinese edition of the NBA’s statement as an indictment towards freedom of speech. Many U.S. lawmakers accused the NBA of putting profit before the first amendment right, and some even went as far as to suggest the league ought to cancel its games in China.

The pressure culminated in commissioner Adam Silver taking the podium in Tokyo on Tuesday to address the commotion. His comments primarily defended Morey’s right to voice his opinion although he used words such as “apologetic” and “regret” to describe the outcome and reaction to the tweet. However, Silver did acknowledge that the league would have to “live with those consequences” and, again, advocated for Morey’s freedom of speech.

Because Silver took a middle ground in trying to placate both outraged Chinese businessmen and U.S. champions of free speech, it does not appear that the conflict is going away anytime soon. CCTV responded to the commissioner’s statements expressing its dissatisfaction towards his defense of unrestricted expression saying, “we believe that any speech that challenges national sovereignty and social stability is not within the scope of freedom of speech.” While the merits of China’s response are up for debate across borders, it is clear the country is taking a hardline stance towards any form of support for the protestors.

The mixing of business, politics, and cultural norms is a messy situation that has been especially aggravated given the disparities between Chinese and U.S. systems. Moreover, it doesn’t help that the decision makers and loudest voices on China’s end are among the country’s elites, the majority of whom are aligned with the state’s position on the protests. Clearly the development in Hong Kong is a sensitive issue that should be approached thoughtfully, but Morey’s stance by no means deserves a fallout of this magnitude. The Rockets’ and NBA’s predicament in this issue is understandable to a certain extent — China contains over 300 million basketball players with more than double that amount who watch the NBA. However, popularity in a marketplace cannot be allowed to undermine one of the most fundamental U.S. principles, and for that Silver deserves credit. This is surely not the end of this fiasco, but the NBA would be best served to move on from the whole thing and let China make the next move, because if it wishes to restrict the NBA from Chinese fans further, it may trigger more attention and an even larger movement for the protestors in Hong Kong.

California v. NCAA: College Endorsement Deals


What do Darius Bazley, Lamelo Ball, and MarJon Beauchamp all have in common? They are trailblazers of the new NCAA-defying movement that has seen these top talents forego their year of collegiate eligibility in order to prepare for the NBA outside of the constraints of the strict university system. While the jury is still out on whether this trend is a flash in the pan or the future of NBA development, it is clear that the NCAA is under various pressures to adapt in the new age of player self-determination, the most recent of which, coming from California lawmakers.

This past month, the state Senate and State Assembly unanimously passed the Fair Pay to Play Act that would allow players in the state to profit off of their name, image, and likeness. It is a decisive blow that would severely limit the NCAA’s authority over players at California’s 25 Division I programs. The bill would make it illegal for California schools to take away an athlete’s scholarship or eligibility for accepting endorsement money. The legislation is seeing fierce opposition from the NCAA, spearheaded by president Mark Emmert, who suggested that California universities may be prohibited from participating in NCAA championships in a letter lawmakers. While the bill will not go into effect for three years, California’s vote against NCAA amateurism will undoubtedly have immediate consequences for the association, California colleges, and top high school recruits.

(As a point of clarification, while the proposed bill will allow all college athletes to profit from endorsements, given the disproportionate popularity of college basketball and football to other collegiate sports, this piece will focus on the bill’s impact in these sports as they will likely benefit the most from it.)

As it pertains to four and five-star recruits, they should be smiling ear-to-ear at the possibility of receiving a “pre-professional” endorsement deal. Because football players currently do not have any true avenues to the NFL outside of the NCAA, the most substantial effect of the Fair Pay to Play Act for may be a surge of high school football talent to California universities. Until other states pass similar legislation, it is hard to imagine that a top player with an offer from, say, USC would choose an offer elsewhere over the opportunity to receive an endorsement deal and play for a perennial powerhouse program. The irony in this is that as California football teams improve, they are all the more likely to qualify for a championship game, in which they may not be allowed to participate. Despite this threat, in an age where draft-worthy talents have sat out bowl games to avoid injury concerns, a championship-game ban likely won’t be enough to dissuade prospects from committing to California institutions.

On the other hand, high school basketball phenoms have an ever-expanding array of non-NCAA paths to the NBA draft. Of the aforementioned players skipping college, Bazley famously received a $1 million internship with New Balance, Ball opted to play overseas in a competitive Australian basketball league (NBL), and Beauchamp has enrolled in a 12-month training program with a staff full of renowned former coaches and executives. These blue chip talents, along with others following their lead, are changing the way in which high school players think about the jump to the pros. It is too early to tell just how much their decisions will affect their draft stock, however a recent NBA mock draft has projected both Ball and fellow NCAA-to-NBL defect, RJ Hampton, to be chosen in the top 10.

The allegiance high school basketball superstars once felt to the NCAA is being eroded, which is why this bill could actually help the association. For example, take Lamelo Ball. Even though the 6’6″ point guard has been on record saying that he would have preferred to play college ball, the NCAA stripped Ball of his eligibility after his dad used him to promote Big Baller Brand and hired him an agent. Both of these infractions killed any hopes Ball would have had at a collegiate career, but what if they hadn’t? Let’s say he wanted to follow in his brother’s footsteps and play for UCLA. The fanfare around Ball is undeniable — to the point where the NBL inked a deal with Facebook to stream 52 games that would certainly have gone unwatched by a U.S. audience if the 18 year old were in the NCAA. The impact college superstars have directly benefits the collegiate association as evidenced by the “Zion effect” on ticket prices. So why wouldn’t the NCAA want the insane media coverage that follows the sport’s most prominent athletes?

The short answer is they do, but only on their own terms. Any steps towards player compensation, even from one’s own likeness, is a step closer to colleges paying athletes, which is seeming more like the inevitable future every year. Especially in basketball where other options are constantly emerging, the NCAA is particularly even more threatened by the NBA mulling the abolition of the “one-and-done” rule, which would make the association completely obsolete for the best high school players. In turn, the overall product of NCAA basketball would decline and could force a drastic overhaul of the system to incentivize at least some of the best prospects to choose college over professional and international basketball. It seems as though the California ruling may well be just the first step in a reorganization of the way the NCAA is structured, at the very least in basketball–for now.

With the developing XFL, a pro football league that would run during the NFL’s offseason, it is only a matter of time before football copies the blueprint of NCAA basketball alternatives and offers a more enticing path to the pros than does the NCAA under its shield of scholarships. It seems as though the Fair Pay to Play Act would almost administer a remedy to an already-worsening problem, but the NCAA sees one of its most valuable commodities as its authority over the players. However, even if the organization doesn’t ever want to pay players for the profit they bring, there are several convincing arguments for at least allowing player endorsements.

The most significant is the additional profit it would bring to the NCAA. Yes, part of this agreement would entail revenue sharing with the players, but right now there are two huge markets that would largely benefit both sides. One is jersey sales. It is almost unimaginable that if an Oklahoma Sooners fan wants a Jalen Hurts jersey, the only option available is a blank jersey with the number one on the back — no last name. Currently black markets have filled this gap and one can buy a bootleg jersey for cheap from China, but the opportunity is clear. Iron out a deal with the athletes to use their name, and sell jerseys for massive profit around the country.

The second market would be to revitalize the popular NCAA Football video game franchise that was discontinued in 2013 after a lawsuit ruled against the NCAA in their fight to use the names, image, and likeness of college athletes. Again, a fairly easy solution seems evident: pay the players, make the game, split the revenue. However, there is little indication that the organization seems inclined to do so and would rather ignore the obvious market opportunity.

The last reason is less tangible, but just as meaningful. What if the NCAA took initiative and righted their past wrongs? Crazy, I know, but what if? The opinion fans hold of the NCAA seems to find a new low with every passing season. Just two seasons ago the organization stripped the backup kicker at UCF of his scholarship because he profited from his Youtube channel where he posted trick-shot videos. Next year, will mark the ten-year anniversary of the NCAA vacating beloved USC running back, Reggie Bush, of his Heisman Trophy award for receiving improper benefits from the school. The NCAA has an unfavorable reputation as the tattletale big brother, which has undoubtedly contributed to the budding movement away from collegiate sports.

In any case, the direction of the NCAA as it pertains to collegiate athlete’s endorsement opportunities will be decided in the coming months. It seems likely that California’s legislation will be wrote into law without a say from the NCAA and what comes next is uncertain at best. However, other states are preparing to draft their own versions of a similar bill, which could mean a much bigger fight than the NCAA may be ready for. It appears that the landscape of collegiate sports is in the midst of a stark transition, one that will certainly place more power and financial security in the hands of the athletes that are responsible for its very success.