The Top 5 Basketball Leagues Outside The United States

The trendy thing to do these days if you’re an NBA player is to publicly announce that you are thinking about playing overseas. All the cool kids are doing it. Dwight Howard said he was thinking of jumping to Europe or China and Kobe Bryant was reportedly nearing a deal with Turkey’s Besiktas basketball club – the same team that recently signed Deron Williams. And why not? Playing overseas seems like a pretty sweet gig: you get to hang in some awesome foreign country for a couple months while playing against solid competition.

But that’s only if you pick the right league. Pick wrong and you could end up freezing your ass off on a bus in Siberia traveling from one empty gymnasium to another. That’s why we’re here to break down the five best leagues for NBA players looking to get some burn outside the U.S.

5. CBA, China
If you’re down with living on the other side of the world, the CBA could be the spot. The league pays well and it has a similar style to the NBA (games are 48 minutes long). It might not have the same level of talent as the top European leagues, but it boasts some solid imports like Quincy Douby, James Singleton and Lester Hudson. However, like many foreign leagues, the CBA has a two-import limit so spots will be limited.

4. Liga Nacional de Básquet, Argentina
Arguably the second best pro basketball league in the Americas, Argentina’s Liga Nacional de Básquet packs plenty of talent. Just ask Manu Ginobili, Fabricio Oberto, Luis Scola, or Carlos Delfino who all started their careers in the 16-team league. Argentina proved it produces some talented ballers at the 2004 Olympics where it grabbed a gold medal. Word on the street is that Argentina isn’t such a shabby place to live either.

3. Lega Basket Serie A, Italy
Raptors fans, you can thank Lega Basket Serie A for failing to mold Andrea Bargnani into the beast you wish he were. Bargnani, who was selected No. 1 overall by Toronto in 2006, spent three seasons with Italy’s Benetton Treviso before coming to the U.S. But just because Bargnani is soft doesn’t mean the league lacks talent. Brandon Jennings, who tiptoed around the NBA age minimum by spending a year with Lottomatica Roma before going to the Bucks, had trouble getting buckets in Italy, averaging just 5.5 points in 17 minutes per game with Roma. Other notable alumni of Lega Basket Serie A include Bill Bradley, who spent his first pro season with the Italian club Olimpia Milano while studying at Oxford, and Dominique Wilkins, who played a year with Teamsystem Bologna.

2. HEBA A1, Greece
HEBA A1 has long been a popular destination for American players. Even before Josh Childress opted to leave the NBA in 2008 to join the Greek club Olympiakos, Wilkins spent a season Panathinaikos, where he captured the 1996 Euroleague title. Even without Wilkins, Panathinaikos has had little trouble earning victories, snagging 13 of the last 14 HEBA A1 titles. The club’s dominance could finally come to an end if Olympiacos can land a solid NBA guy to replace Childress for the upcoming season. Joining Olympiakos wouldn’t be a bad gig, as the team plays in the city Piraeus on the Saronic Gulf. Just make sure to watch out for the riots.

1. Liga ACB, Spain
Spain’s Liga ACB is the cream of the crop. It’s got everything going for it. It has the location, it has the money, and it has the talent. If I were Ricky Rubio, there’s no way I would leave Juan Carlos Navarro and the sandy beaches of Barcelona for Minnesota. A number of talented players have gone through Spain’s top league. Pau and Marc Gasol, Rudy Fernandez and Jose Calderon all started their careers in Liga ACB before jumping to the NBA. With a slew of talented players still hooping in Spain, Liga ACB would be the ideal landing spot for NBA guys looking to compete at a high level during the lockout.

Honorable Mentions

French Pro A, France
The French Pro A was the launching pad for the careers of Tony Parker, Boris Diaw and Bruce Bowen.

Turkish Basketball League, Turkey
The clubs of the Turkish Basketball League have been making moves in recent years, signing the likes of Sean May, Allen Iverson and Deron Williams. Could Kobe be next?

Maccabi Tel Aviv, Israel
Maccabi Tel Aviv is not a league, but this club definitely deserves some recognition. A member of the Euroleague and the Israeli Super League, Maccabi Tel Aviv is one of the top world’s elite clubs. Omri Casspi, Carlos Arroyo and Marcus Fizer have all suited up for the yellow and blue.

CSKA Moscow, Russia
Another one of the world’s top club teams, CSKA Moscow has served as the home to a number of talented players including Andrei Kirilenko, Theodoros Papaloukas and Rusty LaRue.

If you were in the NBA, where would you want to sign?

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