With the NBA finals upon us, it is time to revisit the idea of a legitimate world club basketball championship. Why haven't the powers that be made this idea a priority? The popularity of this event seems so evident given this age of globalisation and the growth of basketball's global fan base. Both baseball and ice hockey have enjoyed considerable success with their world competitions featuring top professionals representing their countries of birth.
Baseball fans watched games taking place around the world, culminating in a final series in the United States. Ice hockey's world cup followed on the heels of the successful Canada Cup series and is slated to take place again in 2011. While basketball has similar events, such as the world championships for national teams, the sport also had a club world cup at one point. From 1966 to 1987, top clubs competed for the Intercontinental Cup and then from 1987 to 1999, top clubs, including the NBA's best, competed for the McDonald's Championship in Paris. These events no longer exist.
The winners of the NBA final have long been called the world champions. This misnomer was excusable because the league does have most of the top players in the world and as such it is within reason to make such claims of grandeur. With the faltering US economy and the devalued US dollar, the time is now to consider the possibility of reviving the event. For the first time in generations, the US-based basketball clubs are facing competition for their talent. Whereas in the past the NBA could offer top dollar to the world's best players, we may very well be entering an era where clubs in Europe, the Middle East and Asia are far more likely to have the funds to tempt them away. Last summer we had a glimpse of this possible scenario when the Greek club Olympiakos lured the then Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Childress. The Hawks were not prepared to offer the money the Greeks put forward.
As players travel farther afield to sign with the highest bidder, the NBA as a central hub of talent will cease to be the case. If the riches offered in leagues from Spain to Turkey to China do indeed sway top athletes, the NBA championships will eventually become just another regional league title. Simply put, the NBA are only a global league because they offer the most money. If this changes, basketball fans around the globe will become more and more inclined to want to see the best compete for a true world title.
The fact that in 2009 there is no cup-winners' series between the NBA and European league champions is a missed business opportunity. For the past few years, the NBA clubs have struggled to beat the European clubs in their friendly matches. While this is not to suggest the NBA and European basketball are now on par, the disparity is becoming less significant. The International Basketball Federation (FIBA) have now planned a club world cup in 2010 in China, albeit without the participation of a European, NBA or Chinese league champion. It hardly seems worthwhile to run such an event without the involvement of the three most important basketball regions.
What is needed to pull off an event of this nature is: a big-time sponsor, a broadcasting network, the cooperation of both FIBA and the NBA, and an agreed location. This has all been done before. Given the economic climate, it is unlikely such an event could take place in the western world. Abu Dhabi is already set to host the Fifa Club World Cup. Why not add a basketball world cup to the list of world-class events in the UAE?