For many NBA fans, the months between the end of the NBA Finals in June and the start of the regular season in late October represent an excruciating desert through which they must wander each year, with no oasis in sight to slake their thirst for professional basketball. This coming offseason, though, will apparently feature a water fountain aimed at keeping pro-hoops-loving fans from getting parched during the long hot summer — a "competitive summer basketball league" called The Champions League with a season lasting roughly 30 games during July and August featuring "over 200 former pro players [...] including former All-Stars."
That description seems to classify The Champions League as less like international soccer's Champions League than like golf's Champions Tour for pros aged 50 and older, but that doesn't necessarily mean it'll lack appeal — or recognizable names, according to USA TODAY's Sam Amick
Sixteen teams [are slated to] begin competing in the summer of 2016, with a strong preference for players who have competed in the NBA during the last three years. According to [league chairman and CEO Carl] George, the New York team is already fully formed and includes former NBA players Al Harrington, Rasheed Wallace and Maurice Ager. Teams in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Miami, Orlando, Atlanta and Cleveland are up next, with the goal to employ approximately 250 players in all (170 on teams, others as player-coaches or in other roles). Each team would have two former NBA All-stars on the roster and a Hall of Famer in the front office. George said that 60 players have committed to this point, with many more “in the pipeline” while the subsequent teams are rolled out. [...]
The strategy to attract the best-of-the-rest players is simple: provide a far better payday than the NBA’s Development League (top tier approximately $25,000) while offering a more-comfortable alternative to the overseas route that can certainly lead to more money but that, inevitably, requires a life-changing relocation. Or, of course, some players who didn’t have worthwhile NBA summer league invites in July could play in the D-League/overseas and the Champions League as a way to, in essence, double-dip. Flexible player contracts are a selling point here, and there’s this added bonus that could surely improve the competition too: Division-winning players get a $50,000 raise, and championship tournament winners — it’s a March Madness style tournament setup — would earn an extra $100,000 as well.
Other former NBA players identified by George as expected to participate in The Champions League's first charity game, a Jan. 29, 2016, contest in St. Louis intended to benefit the V Foundation and Stuart Scott Memorial Cancer Research Fund, include former Portland Trail Blazers star Brandon Roy, longtime Detroit Pistons star Rip Hamilton and one-time All-Star Josh Howard. (Such charity games/marketing events will evidently be a regular staple of the league's non-summertime calendar.) Thirteen-year NBA veteran guard and National Basketball Players Association official Keyon Dooling is also slated to both play in the league and serve as a sort of recruiter.
In addition to New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Miami, Orlando, Atlanta and Cleveland, the league also plans to set up franchises in eight other NBA markets — Chicago, Minneapolis, Dallas, Houston, Detroit, Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Francisco. While charity games like the one set to serve as the league's kickoff event in January will take place in non-NBA markets, one of the major attractions for the talent base that CEO George seeks to attract is giving post-NBA vets an opportunity to revisit the places they loved during their heydays, as Dooling told Amick:
[Follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr: The best slams from all of basketball]
"Most guys will tell you that they miss the community in the locker room, the camaraderie in the locker room, they miss their favorite restaurants that they used to travel to in all these different cities, that they miss the noise of the crowd. Those are some things that even a hundred million dollars can’t fill that void.
"At the end of the day, I’m the one – because of who I am and what I’ve been through – I’m the one who hears how difficult this transition is for our players. I’m privy to all that information…I know that guys have not transitioned as smoothly as I have. I know the impact this (league) is going to have on my brethren. That’s why I’m so passionate about it, because it’s a great opportunity to help one another transition, help one another heal, and you can scratch a living for yourself to be able to be comfortable as you figure out what the next step is. I think it’s genius."
Giving recent-past pros an opportunity to continue plying their trade outside the rigorous competitive structure of the NBA — one that spans a full summer and comes with a steady-if-sub-NBA paycheck for all involved, unlike the winning-team-takes-all $1 million prize at the end of The Basketball Tournament — seems like a pretty cool idea. I'm not entirely sure fans will flock to hand over their cash to watch past-their-prime vets compete for 30-game summers, but keeping ticket costs down to a reported $25 a head could very well reduce the barrier to entry for fans and families who'd like the opportunity to watch (theoretically) high-level ball featuring recognizable faces.
Still, after watching the recent scandal-plagued implosion of the AmeriLeague, you could forgive some skepticism as to whether a non-NBA-affiliated startup league targeting former and prospective NBA players for stateside play during the NBA offseason can sustain itself — especially when you see numbers like "16 franchises in big cities" and "$200,000 average salaries." That said, as noted by Erik Gunderson of The Columbian, the league did report $360,000 in funds raised during a recent filing for $2 million in debt financing, and the league's partners include two of the principals behind Star Branding — founder Tommy Hilfiger and CEO/president Bernt Ullman.
Whether there's enough money and commitment to make The Champions League a viable ongoing concern for years to come remains to be seen. So, too, does whether the likes of Wallace, Roy, Hamilton, Howard, Harrington, Dooling and whichever other vets sign on can actually perform at a level that's worth paying to see. For now, though, this seems like a development worth keeping an eye on as we worth through a cold NBA-filled winter and cast our eyes toward a hot NBA-devoid summer, during which the prospect of watching a 41-year-old Sheed bomb 3-pointers, give halfhearted defensive effort and talk trash becomes much more enticing.
More NBA coverage:
- - - - - - -