x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Rubio stays put and fans lose again

This past month, the basketball world wondered what would happen to Spain's Ricky Rubio.

This past month, the basketball world wondered what would happen to Spain's Ricky Rubio. The young phenom and his representatives were trying to negotiate a transfer from the Catalan club DKV Joventut to the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves. In the end, FC Regal Barcelona bought out Joventut's contract and Rubio will play for the Catalan giant, forgoing the NBA until 2011 at the earliest.

Rubio's contract issues point to a larger problem, namely that the NBA plays socialism while the rest of the basketball world plays capitalism. The Brazilian international Tiago Splitter best exemplifies the NBA's anti-free market system. While he is unknown to many NBA fans, Splitter is arguably the best centre in the world outside the NBA. For the past few seasons, he has been voted one of the best players in the Euroleague, basketball's equivalent of the Uefa Champion's League.

Splitter is a top prospect on every level. Yet he remains in Spain, even though, I have it on good authority, he wants nothing more than to play in the NBA. In 2007, the San Antonio Spurs drafted Splitter with the first round's 28th pick. Among the labyrinth of NBA regulations, the rules state that first round picks earn a set salary. Had Splitter gone to the NBA in 2007, he would have had to pay his Spanish club US $1 million (Dh3.67m). NBA rules allow teams to pay a maximum of $500,000 in transfer fees.

In the 2007-2008 NBA season, Splitter would have made approximately $860,000 (120 per cent of the 2007-2008 rookie salary scale). After paying US income taxes, he might have had enough to pay the remainder of the buy out. In essence, he would play for free as a rookie. It came as no surprise when Splitter stayed in Spain. This past season he earned a reported $2.3m after taxes. Just as the Australian international David Andersen shunned the NBA for bigger contracts in Europe, Splitter may follow suit.

NBA fans lose out because they do not get to see the very best compete. The league's antiquated method comes from an attempt to control everything and create a homogenous environment for all the NBA franchises. Unfortunately, the world does not work like that. I was involved with the Denver Nuggets player Nene Hilario's transfer to the NBA from Brazil's Vasco Da Gama club. NBA executives were scared of drafting Nene because they could not do much to get Vasco to release the Brazilian.

The experience showed me the absurdity of the NBA's transfer fee system. In this case, Vasco wanted to get paid for developing Nene in the same way football clubs get paid when their young players transfer to European clubs. The NBA's rules severely limit what the clubs can pay in transfer fees, so it is left to the player to buy out his contract, dramatically decreasing the likelihood of the transfer. The fault lies squarely with the NBA's Soviet Union-style regulations. The losers are NBA fans.

The league needs to jump into the 21st century of global basketball and adopt player transfer rules that foster freer movement of labour. Following the example set by professional football would dramatically simplify the player transfer mess. If an NBA club wants a non-NBA professional player, all they should have to do is buy the player rights. A team's ability to sign players will then be limited only by the salary cap, itself, another anti-free market mechanism.

With Rubio moving to Barcelona, NBA fans will miss out on one of the greatest basketball talents to come around in years. More significantly, perhaps Rubio will follow in the footsteps of Splitter and Andersen by deciding to stay in Europe to make more money. @Email:gdole@thenational.ae