Giving German hoop dreams a helping hand

Giving German hoop dreams a helping hand
Are Germans just good for warming the bench? Photo: DPA

Germany’s professional basketball league might be popular, but it isn’t very German. David Hein looks at a new rule intended to nurture homegrown talent at the expense of American interlopers.


Basketball might be an intrinsically American sport, but Dirk Bauermann believes it needs to become more German.

That’s why the coach of Germany’s national team has grudgingly welcomed a new regulation intending to give more local players time on the court in the country’s professional league.

Germany’s professional league the BBL announced over the weekend that teams must increase the number of German players on their rosters from four this season to five for the 2010-11 campaign, and six starting in the 2012-13 season. The decision aims to reduce the dominance of imported American talent, which accounts for roughly two-thirds of all playing time in the BBL - compared to just over 16 percent for German players.

“It’s a small step forward,” Bauermann said this week in a statement released by the German Basketball Federation. But he also criticised the new rules for not going far enough to promote German players. “It’s also a missed opportunity. I would have wished there had been a more courageous decision.”

Bauermann is not known for mincing words on the subject of giving preference to Germans – only half a year ago he made headlines for claiming American pros in Germany “would be hauling boxes in supermarkets in the US if they weren’t playing here.”

He and others had hoped to convince the BBL teams to have one German player on the court at all times, but the league wasn't willing to go that far. Instead it opted to implement the practice of limiting the number of foreigners on teams – or setting a minimum amount of domestic players on squads – which is growing commonplace throughout Europe’s top leagues. Accordingly, German basketball officials do not fear legal challenges to their latest ruling.

“We are not worried at all about any sort of action since the agreement still allows for a lot of other internationals,” Dirk Kaiser, the BBL's spokesman, told The Local. “But if there was a concern you would have to have this discussion in all the other leagues in Europe as well. So I think we are on safe, solid ground.”

Bauermann’s inflammatory comments in March sparked both outrage and support. But while his delivery is debatable, his intention was clear: to get more Germans in the BBL on the court to help fill the huge shoes of Dirk Nowitzki when the NBA star retires from the national team. And his players share their coach’s concern.

“Perfect would have been always having two Germans on the court,” Germany's record international Patrick Femerling told Westdeutsche Allgemeine, referring to the fact his teammates on the national team, Johannes Herber and Philipp Zwiener, couldn’t earn playing time at German BBL powerhouse Alba Berlin.

But MEG Göttingen's US coach John Patrick called Bauermann's comments blatantly racist.

“He should inform himself before he makes such false statements to the public. In our team for example are guys who could work as lawyers, judges and bankers,” he told Göttinger Tageblatt newspaper. “But they love basketball.”

However, it’s not only talent that BBL teams factor into building their rosters. One of the main arguments against employing German players is that they are allegedly more expensive than young recent college graduates from the United States – a crucial consideration for many teams battling financial collapse as well as to get the playoffs.

But starting next season BBL teams – only 10 of the league’s 18 coaches are themselves German – will have to start relying more on local players.

That doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing, as the German national squad has proven it can compete internationally. After qualifying for the 2009 Olympics in Beijing, the team narrowly missed out on a spot at the 2010 World Championship in Turkey.

And with more Germans getting court time in the BBL, national coach Bauermann will have less of an excuse not to do better in the future.


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