LeBron James and the Euroleague

Robert CenzonCorrespondent IAugust 5, 2008

Admittedly, I was shocked when I heard that Josh Childress had accepted Olympiakos’s $32.5 million contract offer.

Certainly it is not unheard of for NBA players to hop the pond to play in Europe, but for the most part these are role players or perhaps others on the tail ends of their careers.

Though certainly not a star player by any means, Childress was certainly a solid NBA player and one of the premier sixth men in the league. At the very least, he was a player that the casual NBA fan probably had actually heard of before.

While Childress’s decision, in and of itself, does not necessarily or even probably portend a massive exodus to the NBA’s salary cap-less European counterpart, it did demonstrate that this possibility in a relatively high-profile manner.

What will likely be more important than Childress simply signing with Olympiakos will be his actual experience there. Recently, LeBron James admitted that he would consider a European offer of “$50 million a year or more.”

Though this seems outlandish both in terms of how ludicrously high his salary expectations seem to us, as well as how utterly impossible it seems for the NBA’s best young player to leave at the zenith of his career, upon closer consideration, there are many reasons why LeBron probably should spend a year or two abroad.

Firstly, European clubs do not have salary caps. Simply, this means that no NBA franchise could offer anything even in the ballpark of what European ones could propose. Moreover, it is possible that much like Olympiakos is reportedly already going to do for Childress, they could pay LeBron’s income tax for him. LeBron could potentially be making $50,000,000 straight up.

Obviously, this is substantially more than he would be making in the United States. For an athlete whose self-stated financial goal is to become a billionaire, this must be an extremely compelling selling point.

Secondly, the Euro league is not the NBDL. LeBron would not be playing in a minor league in any sense, as anyone who has seen what has happened to the US National team in recent years can attest. Although it is not up to par with the talent level of the NBA, LeBron would be playing in a professional league in every sense of the term.

If the King does truly want to become a “global icon,” it is difficult to see a better venue for him to accomplish this besides playing in Europe.  Of note also is the fact that Commissioner David Stern has stated that he envisions a global NBA, with divisions both in Europe and in Asia.

Without a doubt, LeBron playing in Europe would contribute greatly to the realization of this project. Him thriving in Europe, as a person as well as a player, would do much to mitigate the concerns of American players living and playing in foreign countries.  In this sense, LeBron would be taking a huge step towards a more global game.

Consider that the King is currently 23 years old. He will be 25 should he decide to play in Europe in 2010.

Michael Jordan won his first championship at the age of 28. I contend that LeBron, in choosing to spend a couple of years in Europe (which reportedly would be the length of time he currently envisions spending there), really doesn’t stand to damage his basketball legacy in any way.

Jordan retired twice, played minor league baseball, and is still unquestionably the greatest of all time.  The hundred million obvious reasons aside, once you think about it, why wouldn’t LeBron want to play in Europe?