NBA D-League vs. European Basketball: Why don’t more players go to Europe?

The following article is a guest contribution by Benjamin Haynes, Esq.   Haynes is a former Division 1 Basketball Player at Oral Roberts University and currently practices law in the State of Florida.

Many current and former college basketball players all have the same goal, make it to the NBA. Many players will play in the NBA Developmental league in order to have the potential chance of being called up to the NBA. While the 2011-2012 NBA season saw the most D-league call ups in the history of the league, the number was still only 50. And while 50 might sound like a large number of players who have been called up, it is a misleading figure. Of those 50, there are regular NBA players who have been injured or are struggling with their performance and are sent down to the D-league in order to get back in the flow of the game. Once rehabbed and healthy, or producing at an efficient level, the then D-league player is called back up to the NBA.  This figure is included in the 50. Further, some of these players included in the 50 statistic are players who have been signed to a ten day contract. Once that ten day contract is up, they are sent back to the D-league only to try and earn their way to another ten day contract to try and prove their worth. Of the 50, only a minimal amount actually stay put in the NBA.

The worst part about basketball players staying in the USA and playing in the D-league is the fact that most D-league salaries range from only $12,000 to $24,000. Average overseas players can get a $65,000 contract with ease.  Depending on the league that players get into in Europe, salaries can start as high as $100,000. Not only is there a big discrepancy between the salaries, but the money made in Europe is typically tax free. The club oftentimes will pay your taxes to the country you are playing in. That American who is playing overseas may also receive credit with the United States government for paying their taxes. Further, most European clubs commonly pay for a player’s living expenses. That includes providing a player with a car and lodging. So the player in Europe can be saved from taxes and the more expensive living expenses.

Even with knowledge about the above discussion, players are still set on staying in the D-league and waiting for their small chance of being called up to the NBA. There are various reasons why players do stay, but one thing is for certain, the majority of these players are losing a very large amount of money by the end of their career. While I am not one to shoot down anyone’s ambitions or dreams, I do believe it is important for players to look at the statistics. The chance of a D-leaguer getting called up and staying in the NBA for the rest of his career is extremely slim. The fact is that there are a lot of good basketball players out there, and only so many slots on an NBA roster. However, there are a lot of opportunities overseas. I know a good amount of average basketball players making great money in Europe.

My advice is go to Europe. Make around a $100,000 a year for ten years and then retire and come back with a substantial amount of money heading into life after basketball. Don’t fall into the trap of being stuck in the D-league until you are 30. By that time you will most likely not even have a slot on a D-league roster, with a younger crop of players coming in. Think about the difference in salary. Here’s a hypothetical: A player spends ten years in Europe making $100,000 a year. After ten years that is a million dollars. Compare that to a D-leaguer who spends ten years in the D-league at $24,000 a year. The D-league player makes $240,000 total during that ten year career. A difference between the European salary and the D-league salary is $760,000. That is a life changing amount of money. I am not saying that money is the only thing a player should focus on when looking at where to play his professional career, but it is definitely a very important aspect of a player’s decision.

There is also a myth that these players who go overseas will never have a chance to get seen by the NBA ever again. That is false. I know plenty of players who are overseas during the professional season and then come back during the summer and play in the NBA’s summer league. That is a great opportunity to potentially get seen by an NBA general manager and get a contract. If a player does not get a contract offer, then the good news is that the player still has a great salary waiting for him in another country.

There are players who have families and they don’t want to leave the United States. There are also players who just don’t want to go live in a different country and adapt to another culture. For those players, I would say the D-league is a good situation. For the players who do not have families and are not opposed to living in another country, weigh the facts and make an educated decision on where to spend your professional career.

  • karlo

    Do you know the salary of a player in croatia? and i am wondering if they pay players who are on the national 16U team or 18U team even though they are minors?

    • Vick

      Depends on which national team you have played for and the level of that team In countries like Serbia, Spain, Russia, Lithuania players are being tied down to contracts at 16. A few years back I attend a european group A tournament at under 16 and a number of players did not turn up to play with their national teams because they were in negotiations with their agents with pro clubs.

  • tony tarr

    what are the best mens basketball leagues and teams in europe?

    • Vick

      Spain, Greece, Russia at the top end. Place like Germany, France, Lithuania and Serbia have great leagues but don’t pay quite as much. If you are coming out of a small program with something to prove you can look at the likes of Holland, Belgium, Latvia, Poland and Portugal.

    • panteira

      As a person who knows a bit about european basketball, let me advice you about not real or misleading data in this article:
      European basket as rechead a high level nowadays. A top forgeiner player in a good league as Greece ,Italy or Spain can reach 2,3,4 and even 5 milion dollars a year,in case of big stars, and there are a great deal of players who could play in any NBA team, in those leagues they don´t need u.s 50000 dollars players, because they hAve plenty their own. Those salarys you can find them in minor european leagues like portugal, belgium, england , etc Teams who play euroleague don´t have average players, and remind that euroteams can haver no more than 3 extracomunatary players….For instance , to give you a tip, An american player in leb league (2nd spanish division) has an intermidiate salary arround 50000 dollars,cthere, yes, you can find development nba players quite above development nba league salary…. not gold everything you are told isn´t it so? But thinking that spare us players can go to top euroleague teams and play final four games is out of reality

  • Jon

    I have often thought that as well because a lot sit on the bench. I often thought why does the D league not play against the Euro league teams and the CBA in china because then they could have an international vers of the NBA. I wish more players who were at the bottom of the draft would go to the Europe league.