This Dam Won't Break Itself
The minute I found out that Childress really is going Greek, my perspective on the entire situation shifted. We've spent the last few days prattling on about what this could mean, how it could change everything, and how exactly the trend would mount. But now that it's no longer purely academic, we're back at square one. Or at least back to baby steps. This is an experiment, one that's anything but a sure thing. And that's where Josh Childress enters the picture—as an individual, not a symbol.
One of my all-time favorite cliches is "If ________ hadn't been born, someone would have had to invent him." It looks really stupid without context, but that's kind of how I feel about Brandon Jennings. As a pioneer, he's generic: A highly-touted high school player and surefire lottery pick with few tough decisions to make in the short-term. Some international team would always have been willing to fork out dough for pre-frosh of his caliber, no matter what position he played. It was just a matter of time until someone took this bold step, which only proves how doomed the age limit is. The marriage is brief, everyone but Stern and Brand understands, and the skirmish over where that first season is played is nearly circumscribed.
Childress, though, is entering a far more complicated situation. He's certainly the best NBA player to spurn that league, and will touch down in Europe as a test case for all others who are victims of a shortage of cap space around the league, bound to a crappy franchise, held back by a roster full of similar players, or utterly devoid of national hype. I hesitate to call him a victim, beacuse the Hawks did offer him a ton of money. But while Jennings operates in the realm of the inevitable, Childress has chosen the great unknown over a prison of circumstance.
And yet there's no guarantee it will work out, that we'll ever get to see this become a viable option for pros, or find the globalization of the game hastened in ways that would've been unimaginable only a week ago. For all the rewards Childress looks to reap—the largest contract in Euroleague history, a strong Euro, and significantly less taxation are among them—he is entering uncharted territory. Childress has the opportunity to make or break this option for future generations. You decide whether it's too strong to call that a burden, or the less somber "responsibility" will suffice.
In my Sporting Blog post, I made the comparison to Garnett's going pro. Without a doubt, KG's handling of this historic transition contributes to his unassailable reputation among nearly everyone involved with the NBA. At the risk of blasphemy or poor taste, you could also bring in Branch Rickey's hand-picking of Jackie Robinson, or Obama's irresistible narrative.
I'm not party to every behind-the-scenes conversation everywhere, but I don't think it's a coincidence that Childress was tapped to play this role. While he's athletic as hell, he's also carved out a reputation for defense, hustle, and team play. He rarely chafed at being stuck behind any number of other Atlanta SFs. He's smart on the court, and yeah, smart off of it by the most stodgy metrics: Try a 3.5 GPA and 1100 on his SATs at a school not known for catering to athletes. He's solidly middle-class, went to Stanford. . . in short, a model citizen who carries very little NBA stigma. In fact, if you're conspiracy-minded, you can imagine Stern himself picking Childress to bridge the two basketball worlds.
I realize I've wandered into dangerous territory here: Implicitly comparing taking a ton of money to integration, and suggesting that J.R. Smith wouldn't be afforded the same opportunity. But I come not to denigrate other players, or suggest that bias is hindering true global basketball understanding. Just pointing out that, if we accept that things could go wrong here, and realize that offering Childress the keys to Europe's basketball kingdom as the international game is on the rise might be a touchy subject, this will be a test case, an experiment. Whether this makes you see Childress as a hero or a pawn is another issue altogether.