The problems plaguing international hoops.
by Kevin Owens / @Waiting4godunk
It’s amazing how, despite retiring from professional basketball several months ago, I’m still reminded of my career everyday. I’m reminded every morning when I drag my broken-down body out of bed and limp down the stairs. Whenever I go to the gym and feel the surging pain throughout my knees. When I see a message from my lawyer, telling me they are getting no cooperation from the various teams that owe me money.
Now please don’t get me wrong. I am not a former professional basketball player crying about the opportunities I had. I loved (nearly) every minute I was able to play this great game at one of the highest levels. I don’t regret the money I made, or the fact I was given the opportunity to play the sport I love all over the world.
I have no regrets about how I played. I don’t regret playing injured, or sick. That is who I am as a person and nobody can ever take that away from me. I left everything I had on the floor. What I regret is not doing more to fix an overseas basketball market, whose system is broken. Luckily, that is a problem I will now try to rectify.
The overseas basketball market, much like the NBA, has seen its walls crumple over the past few years. The NBA however, is set up on a strong foundation, differentiating itself from the market overseas, whose foundation is full of cracks.
Overseas basketball is governed by a group called FIBA (Fédération Internationale de Basketball, or for those who do not speak French…Federation of International Basketball). According to FIBA’s website, “FIBA establishes the Official Basketball Rules, the specifications for equipment and facilities, and all internal executive regulations that must be applied to all international and Olympic competitions, for which FIBA also establishes the system of competition.” In other words, FIBA is the David Stern, Adam Silver, and quite possibly James Naismith of basketball outside of the United States.
FIBA is led by a group known as the FIBA Central Board, overseen by FIBA President, and former international referee, Yvan Mainini. This governing body contains an Arbitral Tribunal (FAT), which provides services for the resolution of disputes between players, agents and clubs through arbitration. This means when a certain player (me) is screwed out of money by certain teams, (Team X and Team Y) they can hire the tribunal to act almost as a “judge” in the dispute between the two. The problem is this system, which was started in 2006, is new and thus far, mostly ineffective.
I recently spoke to a former player, who has used the FAT, won the case, and still is yet to receive payment. Under FIBA guidelines, that is grounds for sanctions against that team. Yet said team is operating under no restrictions and with their maximum allotment of imports. So despite paying into the system, the money may never be recouped.
In fact only 12 teams have sanctions against them by FIBA. Twelve!! Over 1,000 club teams in the world and only 12 have committed infractions? I find that very hard to believe. I’ve played for five teams abroad…two of them have committed infractions. Now either I am the unluckiest guy in the world, or the system is corrupt.
These types of problems don’t exist in the NFL, NBA, MLB or NHL. Contracts can’t be voided or ignored when the owner deems fit. The team is mandated to pay every cent, even if it forces the owner into bankruptcy. (See McCourt, Frank)
Do you know why that is? Because at some point professional athletes decided to stand up for their rights. They united, telling their bosses, we will no longer work in unreasonable conditions. We will no longer get paid, only when the owner feels generous. We no longer have to play through pain and injuries, in fear of losing our jobs. That was when the three major professional sports in America formed players unions. The year…1956.
Unfortunately in the foreign basketball market, no such system exists. So overseas athletes continue to play in a five decade old system. They continue to play through injuries and pain, for fear of losing their job. They continue to have contracts ignored and paychecks missed. They continue to give everything they have to these teams, only to be chewed up, and spit out. No retirement pension, or medical insurance for injuries sustained…Just a plane ticket home.
This truly is a broken system. And unless something is done, it will remain broken. In order to make a change, it may need a little more influence than just me.
It is most likely too late for me. I may never recoup any of the money I am owed. But by bringing this to the world’s attention, maybe future generations can benefit and play in a system that protects its players.