Wednesday, 20 January 2010

The World is Shrinking for Pro Athletes

In my initial post on this blog, I posed the question, “what could possibly be better than travelling and watching the best sports in the world?

While for me, the above is my life - and I love it - you can probably go one better, with those that get to travel the world to participate in sport.

This week, I came across an article about former NBA player Michael Dickerson, which caught my eye. Dickerson, who was by all measures a successful player in the worlds top basketball league, was forced into retirement at the age of 28 due to injuries. He’s since come out of retirement to play the Spanish second division.

According to the article, he has spent the six years of his retirement travelling the world, and has now decided to have another go at playing basketball. The emergence of basketball as a genuine world sport, along with his final $43 million contract have allowed Dickerson the opportunity to combine his two passions of sport and travel.

This, my friends, is living the dream.

While not every athlete will have the kind of money Dickerson does to play with, the opportunities for athletes to travel the world to compete in their chosen sport are greater than they’ve ever been.

The NBA is learning about this quickly, with the emergence of European basketball leagues in the last 10 years with the flow of players back and forth over the Atlantic at an all time high. This year NBA opening day rosters had a record 83 international players spread over the 30 teams. The flow isn’t one way, however, with more high profile US players being lured to play in Europe than ever. Americans playing basketball in Europe is nothing new, however the players crossing the ditch were generally players not good enough to make it to the NBA.

That is changing now, with European sides offering money comparable to that of NBA teams, as well as a chance to get outside their comfort zone and test themselves with a very different style of basketball.
The first big name to choose Europe over the NBA was former Atlanta Hawks high flyer, Josh Childress. The Hawks were playing hardball with their restricted free agent, however NBA rules failed to take into account the option of playing outside of the NBA, and Childress was able to get himself a more lucrative contract.

The next big name was that of high school star Brandon Jennings, who chose Europe over going to college for the one season the NBA demands after high school before entering the big time. Jennings says he learnt a lot during his year in Rome, both on the court and off it appears a year living in and learning about another culture has helped keep this kid stay grounded and focussed on his goals.  I watched Jennings drop 55 points on the Golden State Warriors in November, and his maturity, for a 20 year old appeared much greater than those rookies who went through the US college system.

Brandon Jennings on his way to 55 points

It’s not always easy adjusting to your new surroundings however, as a recent story on Nathan Jawai has shown. Jawai has been traded three times in the 18 months since he was drafted into the NBA by the Indiana Pacers in June 2008. Now with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Jawai has struggled to gain confidence with limited opportunities.

Basketball isn’t the only sport to provide opportunities to compete internationally, of course. Football (Soccer) is by far and away the most popular sport worldwide, and as such has talented players from all over the world plying their trade in leagues throughout the globe. Australia’s national team, the Socceroos, will fill the majority of their squad for the FIFA 2010 World Cup in South Africa from players playing in the top flight leagues of Europe.

That’s not to say that big names wont play outside of Europe though. Former Aston Villa and Manchester United standout Dwight Yorke spent a season in Australia, playing for Sydney FC before heading back to the English Premier League, showing that clubs throughout the world take notice more than ever of what is going on in foreign leagues.

Of course, there are some individual sports, where world travel is a big factor, most notably, Tennis and Golf. Make it to the top level in these sports, and world travel is a given.

There are probably no pro athletes that cover more ground than tennis players who have their four Grand Slams in Melbourne, Paris, London and New York each year, with other major tournaments in all other parts of the world including Asia and South America. And the best part? The follow the sun. The world’s best Tennis players are currently in my home town of Melbourne for the Australian Open where it is the middle of summer, for the first Grand Slam of the year. The worlds best then continue to follow the summer north to Europe and North America for the remaining three Grand Slam tournaments later in the year.

I think few would disagree that tennis players’ combination of travelling the world, playing the sport they love and constantly chasing summer is one that is hard to beat.

What could be better than travelling the world to watch sport?  I think I have my answer.


  1. Good stuff with the blog, keep em coming.
    I'll challenge your thoughts on tennis players travelling the most ground and put forward F1 as something to consider (as much as you love it ;) Of course we are talking ground covered around the world as opposed to miles travelled (trying to talk your lingo here), clearly some domestic sports like NBA and Soccer would cover a great amount through a regular season with the sheer number of games played.

    It certainly got me thinking what sports really do travel the globe and cover a lot of ground.

  2. And nice stuff with the Villa inclusion :) 6-4 over Blackburn check out some highlights if you get a chance!

  3. F1! Of course, yep, they're all over the place too. Europe mainly, but North and South America, Asia and Australia.

    They also probably provide the best chance to be part of an entourage, seeing as how many people there are as part of a formula one team.

    In contrast, Tennis players may travel with a coach and/or workout partner and maybe some family.

    Being part of an F1 pitt crew would be the best chance for anyone to travel the world through sport, without being the athlete.