Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Los Angeles Lakers [Print without images]

Saturday, October 2, 2010
Purple and gold updates from London

By Andy Kamenetzky

I wanted to pass along a few notes from Dave McMenamin as he continues his European journey with the Lakers. Most interestingly, Ron Artest has called into question the limit on non-European players certain overseas teams can carry per season. For example, the Spanish and Greek leagues allow just two non-European players per team, and in the U.K., the max is three. I actually had no idea this was the case, and it doesn't sit will for the recently outspoken small forward:

"They need to let more Americans play in the European leagues," Artest said. "There are only like two [Americans] to a team while Europeans can come to America [and play in the NBA] like the whole San Antonio Spurs team -- a whole American team can be full of Europeans. Europe has to be a little more fair to the American players.

"You see a lot of foreign players come over to America to play in the NBA. It's not fair that a lot of American players can't come to China or can't come to Europe to play with as many players as they want, so there's no balance ... They should just make it more even."

Artest raises a valid point about America (i.e., the NBA) opening its metaphorical doors for overseas players and the expectations of reciprocation. It would be poorly received, not just around the world but in the U.S. as well, if the Association put a cap on dudes allowed beyond the 50 (for those who count Alaska and Hawaii). The NBA theoretically represents the best basketball has to offer, and it's to the league's credit they've been so accepting of an international influence to help elevate the bar. I'm not naive enough not to see the marketing opportunities this creates, but either way, the NBA is doing whatever it takes to prove their reported standard.

This gets to the other reason any limit rubs me the wrong way.

One of the great things about sports is how its inherent meritocracy tends to serve as an equalizer. Certainly, "politics" sometimes plays a role in players getting jobs, whether due to bridges burnt, the desire to scratch an agent's back, one slightly lesser athlete coming cheaper than a slightly better version, etc. Professional sports is neither Utopia nor Xanadu, and I'd never claim otherwise.

But for the most part, players make their career path by being good enough. By beating out their competition. By earning it. Elements like race, nationality or social class typically become non-factors in career advancement, because they pale in importance to the quality of a jump shot, the ability to hit a curve ball, or a 40-yard dash time. There are few settings in today's world that offer such a (relatively speaking) level playing field. At the risk of sounding "Kumbaya," I'd rather that remain intact.

Bottom line, if you have the skills to play for Spain and space is available, you should make the team, regardless of where you're from. I understand a continent's urge to provide opportunities for its own, but in my opinion, these restrictions violate what sports are about.

In other news, Kobe Bryant is admittedly still not at 100 percent in his recovery from knee surgery, but there is tangible evidence of progress. McMenamin's description of an intra-squad scrimmage include buckets that feel rather Mamba-esque:

Bryant scored on an array of jump shots, both catch-and-shoot and off-the-dribble, snapping the net with both 3-pointers and fadeaways taken inside the paint. He even finished a fastbreak with a pretty ball fake to send the defender sprawling out of the lane and open up a path for Bryant to finish the play with a soft finger roll at the rim.

Pau Gasol is also learning about the practice habits of Old Man Theo Ratliff. In a related note the Lakers may need to increase their ice budget.