With the NBA commissioner David Stern’s recent announcement on his intentions to step down in 2014, I began thinking about Stern’s legacy. Stern took over the NBA at a time when the league was in decline. There were even talks about the NBA being dissolved throughout his reign. Stern managed to turn the league around, instill confidence in players and managers, and increase the net profit of the league almost 30 percent. In my opinion, Stern was able to achieve this new “era” of basketball by globalizing the professional market.
As a whole, basketball has been an international sport since 1900. People in third world countries understood that all you need is a ball and a rim to play the sport – but Stern took everything to a new level. He understood that to push the sport, these kids in third world countries needed idles to look up to, thus the NBA began playing games worldwide. Thirty years after Stern took over as commissioner, the most popular sports figures in China are Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and of course Yao Ming.
Many sports began to copy the international scene that Stern created. The NFL now holds games in a handful of different countries, and the NHL has held preseason games in European countries like Sweden. However, both of those sports involve specialized equipment and larger team rosters. Basketball can be played as a 1-on-1 match up involving any kind of ball that bounces and any sort of rim-like device to function as a “hoop.”
You see international players on every NBA roster today, and the NCAA has caught on to the trend as well. Many colleges have now established international scouts to pick up on qualified candidates. Qualified candidates for the NCAA must complete the 16 core courses that range from science to math and must have a 2.3 GPA. One player who became a qualified candidate for the Louisville Cardinals is center Gorgui Dieng (pictured above) from Senegal.
Dieng attended a special sports academy in Thies, Senegal, which aims at developing future professional talent. Dieng had a 3.2 GPA, which was good enough to get him out of the country and into the well-entwined sports atmosphere of America. Last year, Dieng started at center for Cardinals team that reached the Final Four, and is on pace to set records with his shot-blocking ability.
So why has Dieng made it so big, while his country’s literacy rate is 39 percent? The answer is the Sports For Education and Economic Development in Senegal, otherwise known as SEEDS. SEEDS was created in 2003 to provide Senegalese boys grades 9-12 with athletic and rigorous academic curriculum. Basically, what SEEDS has done is created a modern day American high school that values sports and academics. There are over 30 former SEEDS students currently in the NCAA basketball system. SEEDS is the beginning of a new step in the right direction for the country of Senegal. Fifty percent of their students pass the French Baccalaureate test, which gives student the right to pursue college when currently only 5% of students in the country of Senegal go on to a college or university.
One testimonial from the SEEDS website says, “I can’t express my feeling about SEEDS because they took me from the bottom to the top of a deep hole in 3 years. They gave me the first step that helps me realize one of my goals. SEEDS is a foundation that everybody in the world should know by the great work they do helping the Senegalese and all the African kids to realize their dream to have a good education and playing their favorite sport.”
As far as international collegiate sports go, collegiate sports themselves are mostly non-existent; as far as international collegiate basketball goes, it is pretty much not even heard of. A few first world countries such as Canada have it, but even then, it is very scarce. Basketball on the world-wide scale is viewed as a professional-only sport.Players from Africa and other nations use basketball to make money as opposed to in the United States, where players use basketball as an immediate means of getting to college with the dreams of reaching the NBA. Currently, the requirements for acceptance into the NBA are either a player spends one year at a higher education program or a player already has professional experience (which would make the player ineligible to attend college).
So what if the NBA changed their rules, and made it such that that for acceptance into the NBA, a player must have at least one year of previous college experience? Suddenly, everything would be centered around getting accepted to college for foreign players. Yes, they could settle for other international basketball leagues around the world, but very few basketball players outside of the United States make over a million dollars, and the ones that do have previous NBA experience.
Suddenly, in a country such as Senegal, the literacy rate rises from 39% to 50% just because it is understood that to further your basketball career, you must be accepted to college. And that is when the trickle-down effect begins and grade school statistics start rising for the better.
Many people blame the interest in sports for bringing down the American societies and letting countries such as China surpass us in academics; but ,competition will always remain the most powerful instinctual drive in human nature – and thanks to collegiate sports, there is a bond between sports and intelligence that is many times lost at the professional level. As the popular NCAA commercials state, “There are over 360,000 NCAA student athletes, and just about all of us will be going pro in something other than sports.”