My Plea to the Overseas Baller: Know Your Worth
As I sit here alone, waiting for my two oldest to get out of the school we were forced to put them in, I’m thinking about how much I miss my husband and how I wish the game weren’t changing as much as it has. He’s gone to Uruguay to play in a month long tournament because the offers, for the second year in a row, have been lacking.
Each year the offers seem to get worse, with only the undesirable countries offering the money we want. They do not, however, offer the lifestyle we need to be comfortable as a family. Offers from Venezuela come with big money, but also political strife that can affect our day to day lives. The shortages of food and basic necessities are so great that you may find yourself without milk or eggs, which is clearly not an option when small children are involved. Small town teams in Turkey and Germany would have left us in the middle of nowhere, with little access to schools or much else, and virtually unable to function when the team is away. Offers from the Middle East do often come with good money, but are either too unstable for our liking or aren’t interested in accommodating such a large family. We even briefly considered an offer in Poland, but ultimately did not want to enter a whole new market where we would be forced to learn yet another language. The kids have already learned, and nearly forgotten, three languages, so a forth at this point seems a bit much.
One might say that beggars can’t be choosers, but having lived this life for 9 years now, we have a clear sense of what we need in order to make this lifestyle work for us. It certainly isn’t all about the money, though it surely helps. We live this life because my husband has a passion for basketball and he’s an amazing player, so we as a family support him for as long as he’s able and willing to play. Many families do support their men from home, which I did do for two years, but we’ve learned that we are stronger when we’re together so that’s the choice we’ve made.
The problem is that the overseas basketball market has changed drastically in the past few years. While it has always been more of a buyer’s market because the pool of available players will always be larger than the available contracts, the market has gotten increasingly tough for players as of late. The average high-profile player (those coming from a big Division 1 school, nearly drafted, or having spent time in the D-League) generally spends their summer training and fielding offers for the next season. Offers are leveraged against one another, and negotiations are had for extra plane tickets, baggage allowances, tuition for school, pretty much anything important to that particular player.
But oh how the tides have turned. The struggling European economy is at the forefront of this downward trend. Overseas teams live and die by their sponsors, and when those sponsors hit a rough patch their priorities turn to saving their own hides. I’m not an economist, but you don’t have to be to understand that a for-profit company will always put their profit margins above all else. So the sponsors, who range from clothing companies and car manufacturers to oil and gas conglomerates, will always tend to their businesses first. As a result, team budgets decrease, players and team employees are paid late, and the teams affected turn from finding the best players they can get, to finding the cheapest players for any given position.
Even the teams who remain relatively unscathed by the economic crisis do take advantage of it. They know that some teams who previously could offer hundreds of thousands in salary can now offer only a fraction of that. So they use that to their advantage, knowing that much of the players leverage is gone. If a team has a budget of $180k for a position, they may offer $100k and say take it or leave it. No negotiations, no extra amenities to make up for the low-balled offer; nothing but the offer and threat of a younger player waiting to snatch whatever you don’t take.
This is not to blame the rookies and younger players, but because many don’t know enough about the market, their acceptance of these low salaries help to bring market rates down across the board. Teams grab these players when they’re at their most vulnerable, usually after being released from an NBA team. They know these players are eager to play on a professional level so they offer the bare minimum. For the players part, if their choice is between a D-League salary of between $15k-25k per season, and an overseas salary of $60k plus an apartment and car, they often take the overseas offer, not knowing the contract should be upwards of 100k. As a result, veteran players are put in a position to compete with young guys willing to take less than half of what the contract is worth. It’s an ugly business and it appears to be getting uglier. I know countless families forced to take massive pay cuts just to remain in their country of choice. Others, like us, wait for better. We hope and we pray that a team wants him enough to pay what he’s worth, but either way, it’s a terrible choice to have to make.
So this is my plea to the young and eager baller: Make sure you have an agent who knows his or her stuff and is familiar with the markets you’re considering entering. If you don’t have an agent, get one; ask around and find someone who’s looking out for your interests, and not the team’s. Talk to as many players as you can, asking what they make (as well as if the team pays on time), or if they know what a certain team has paid players in the past. Better yet, if you have a woman by your side, have her ask around because we’re just better at that. The wealth of information the wives have and share with each other is priceless, so take advantage of her connections and put her to work. Don’t take the first offer you get, and definitely don’t be afraid to negotiate. At worst they say no, but at best they realize you are no idiot and won’t stand for their subpar offers. If enough young players start doing these basic things we can get back to a time when players earned what they have proven they are worth, instead of merely being seen as cheap labor for these million dollar clubs.