Stories and Articles

U.S. Basketball Players Abroad – Can They Make the Adjustment?

SDSU business professors Theo Addo and Gangaram Singh, along with SDSU business graduate student, Lyn Bell, found that American basketball players who perform for international teams may have a hard time adjusting to their new surroundings, even though they are intimately familiar with their sport.

The findings, to be published an upcoming issue of International Journal of Sports Management, indicated that American basketball professionals who enjoyed the best adjustment to their new team tended to play in countries whose cultures were most similar to the U.S.

Of the 96 players that were studied, the vast majority were African-American, all were male and all had played for a college team in the U.S. Some players were in their first year as a professionals and others had been playing for 10 years or more.

The players studied were on teams in France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Israel, Portugal and Spain. These countries were chosen for the study based on their tradition of recruiting a substantial number of players from the U.S. who were not offered contracts by the National Basketball Association (NBA).

The researchers concluded there were a number of factors that influenced the players' adjustment to their new environment including cultural similarity to the U.S.; whether players did any prior research into the culture of their team's country; and whether players were given sufficient advanced notice of the move to the foreign country.

For example, many players had an easier time adjusting to playing in the U.K. which has a similar demographic and shares English as their primary language, than those players whose team was based in Portugal.

The researchers further noted that performance on the court was directly related to the ability to adjust to the culture and to the extent to which the players enjoyed the host country. Well-adjusted players reported enjoying their team's country seemed to play a better game than those who did not.

"American athletes going abroad would have to deal with the dilution of fame, but 'foreign' athletes coming to the NBA would have to deal with the spotlight of fame."

"Some of the findings that were somewhat surprising are that previous international playing experience and the amount of time socializing with teammates in the host country had no impact on the player's ability to adjust to his new surroundings," said Addo. "Even more surprising was that the more time an American player abroad spends communicating with friends and family back home, the less adjusted they seem to be. These findings appear to be counter-intuitive and worthy of further study."

"Hopefully, our findings could be very useful to international basketball clubs looking to recruit American player and to American players contemplating playing overseas, for whatever reason," he added. "Ultimately, ball clubs can use this information to get the very best out of their players."

The researchers concluded that while basketball is gaining in global popularly, it still has its greatest following in the U.S. "American athletes going abroad would have to deal with the dilution of fame, but 'foreign' athletes coming to the NBA would have to deal with the spotlight of fame," they stated.