Charlotte Hornets big Cody Zeller was recently in Gran Canaria, Spain, as part of the NBA's Basketball Without Borders program. Basketball Without Borders aims to spread the love of basketball and teach young players and coaches about the game, and so far nearly 40 players have graduated from the program to the NBA. Zeller was part of 2014's program as well, when the NBA went to Taipei, Taiwan.
In the piece, Zeller mentions that he'd never left the U.S. until he made it to the NBA, and that he's loved his time overseas. Similar to Zeller, I'd never left Canada until a couple of years ago. My experiences elsewhere have been nothing short of eye-opening, and honestly, if you've never taken the time to visit another country, I'd highly recommend it. It really puts things into perspective.
Zeller also said none of the kids he worked with knew who Michael Jordan is. While you'd expect some kids might know Jordan primarily as a team owner, it's surprising to hear none of them really knew — or appreciated — Jordan the basketball player. Maybe we're just getting old. No, we are definitely getting old. To no one's surprise, however, Spanish players like Ricky Rubio, Marc Gasol and Pau Gasol are deified in Spain.
The most interesting tidbit from the Sports Illustrated piece, however, comes toward the end. Zeller was asked if he could see an NBA team located in Europe, and dismissed the idea as unrealistic for players. There's been a lot of chatter over the last couple years about possibly expanding the NBA into Europe, and for the most part players have not been fond of the idea.
On paper, it seems great. More international players, an untapped market, and more basketball with high production value. But like Zeller said, the possibility of 20 hours of travel to play a few games before another 20 hours of travel to play more is not very appealing from a player's perspective.
Chances are the NBA will eventually expand into another country, whether it be a country south of the U.S. or in Europe. When that happens, however, remains to be seen. With the work Basketball Without Borders has been putting in over the last decade, it seems like an inevitability.