NBA’s Role in Youth Development

In Clive Gibson’s Peak Performance, a book about successful sports organizations and their organizational processes, a chapter about Bayern Munich discusses German soccer and the involvement of the German National program and the Bundesliga teams in youth player development; the national team and professional teams actively assist elite player development at the youth levels, as these players one day will represent Germany and be featured in the Bundesliga, so future and continued success is dependent of these players. “They are creating the future through investment in infrastructure, continuity and community,” (Gibson, 187).

The German Football Federation works aggressively to recruit the best athletes to soccer, rather than other sports like basketball or handball. United States basketball does not suffer from lack of participation, nor do any sports present competition that would limit the number of basketball players or fans, so grassroots development for the sake of sustaining the sport is not a vital role of the Association.

However, should the NBA assist in the development of the next generation of players? Should NBA teams make an investment (money, leadership, education) to basketball development in order to sustain a quality product?

Currently, the NBA has a minimal role, providing its name for some local programs and donating money to some youth organizations to assist with programs, while running one summer camp for elite players. This question is not to knock the NBA for failing to contribute to community good, as the NBA has several organizations, like the Read to Achieve and Basketball Without Borders, which it supports.

But, do NBA teams have a responsibility to be more involved with the development of future players? And, if so, what role should NBA teams take? In a recent blog entry, I challenged shoe companies to use its resources for the betterment of basketball, not just the recruitment of adolescent superstars:

Imagine 40 Nike (or adidas or Reebok) Performance Centers in 40 major American cities servicing 150-250 players each, creating an organized development system to nurture the talents of the elite players. Imagine a shoe company using its grassroots money to build safe places for players to play rather than lavishing money on player agents who serve as AAU coaches in the shoe companies grassroots effort to reach the kids and clothe precocious players in their brand (McCormick).

In an earlier article, I proposed a change to the current system of basketball development, one which would place more emphasis on on teaching young, elite players fundamental basketball skills, preparing players for the next level in a manner similar to the European club system. “The coaches think the most important age for talent is between 12 and 14. We have an under fourteen national side, then every age group through to the elite national squad. We have eight coaches. The coaches stay with their teams throughout the age groups and the start back at under-fourteens,” (Gibson, 189). American basketball players spend this time searching for exposure and playing for multiple AAU teams with little to no coaching or emphasis on development. The NBA and USA Basketball do little to insure the success of the next generation, and apply band-aid solutions like hiring Jerry Colangelo to recruit players for the national team and Coach K to coach it.

Rather than shoe companies sponsoring Performance Centers, as Nike does in Canada, the NBA could follow the Bundesliga’s lead to develop and instruct players, using its resources, facilities, money and coaches to improve the next generation of players, which will elevate the overall value of the league. In Germany, “the revenue derived from sponsorships, merchandise, and ticket sales enables FCB (Bayern Munich) to fund the development of youth players,” (Gibson, 204). Surely NBA teams are in a similar position to use some of its wealth and influence for the development of the next generation.

Elite players would play for well-coached, development-oriented teams funded in part by the NBA. Instead of a high school team recruiting and stockpiling talent to destroy other local high schools, club teams would recruit talent to face other similarly competitive club programs.This system would bridge the gap between high school, college and professional basketball. This is one idea. But, as the book says, “Clubs and regional associations have a mutual interest in ensuring the talent gets better and better for the club and national squads.”

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