The Champions Basketball League is considered a breathe of fresh air for former NBA players, who cannot seem to find their way back into the NBA.
The CBL has been uniquely designed to offer NBA alums the next best thing, and possibly an alternate route back onto the sport’s biggest stage.
Champions’ inaugural campaign begins next summer, with 14 regular-season games in major U.S. markets such as Los Angeles, Boston, Miami, and Houston, in addition to New York. The league includes 16 teams. Games will take place primarily in university gymnasiums, such as St. John’s and Baruch College. All 16 teams will compete in a championship tournament in Las Vegas at the end of the season.
The average NBA career lasts just 4.5 years, forcing most athletes to consider their post-playing options sooner rather than later. About 120 players were cut from NBA rosters in August, and for many of those freshly removed from the league, time outside of the NBA is spent finding a way back in.
According to Walt Frazier, a former NBA star and the president of the NY-based Gotham Ballers CBL team, the idea behind CBL is to give the guys another opportunity.
“I’m giving back and giving these guys another opportunity,” Frazier told VICE Sports. “They know they’ve made mistakes which shortened their careers, so this is kind of a second time around for them.”
NBA alums will have a three-year window from when they leave the league to compete for a Champions roster spot, said Carl George, chairman and CEO of the CBL.
Former All-Stars will have five years. Players who have been out of the NBA for longer than that will have opportunities to try out and prove they still have game.
Players will be paid approximately $200,000 per season, according to George, with a $50,000 bonus for winning their division. League champions will each earn a $100,000 grand prize.
The players themselves are also excited about the opportunity. Among those, is Corey Maggette, a 14-year NBA veteran.
“We’re trying to build a new brand of basketball and I’m very excited to be a part of this,” said Maggette. “Guys are excited right now and trying to get in shape. If we can get guys in shape and we can be competitive, this is gonna be a great league.”
The CBL seems to take a slightly different step, rather than blindly copy what the NBA is doing. For example, the tickets will have a flat $25 price for all games, to encourage fans to meet and interact with players at every possible opportunity.
According to George, teams will participate year-round in charity events, community programs, and camps in all 50 states.
“To be able to give kids the opportunity to come up and talk to us, that should really be able to have an impact on their lives,” said Al Harrington, who played in the NBA for 16 seasons. “That’s what I’m more excited about that playing basketball, is to be able to reach these kids.”
Champions will also allow players to gain experience in areas that may not have been available to them during their time in the NBA, such as coaching and upper management, George said.
Although he has no prior coaching experience, for example, former Syracuse star and NBA journeyman John Wallace will serve as the Ballers’ head coach this season.
“This is going to fill that competitive void I’ve had since I’ve retired,” said Wallace, who has received advice from Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy as he prepares for the role. “I wish we were playing a game today—I’m ready and I’m fired up.”
ESPN3 will serve as the broadcast partner for Champions, George said, and will stream games live during the season.
The leagues knows that it will never be the NBA, which broke records for attendance (nearly 22 million) and total revenue ($5.2 billion), among others, in the 2015-16 season—but Champions hopes to be an exceptional second option for both fans and players.
“We’re not here to compete with the NBA. We understand where we stand as a sports marketing business,” George said. But, he added, “people want more basketball content, and we’re going to provide that.”Follow @exnbadotcom
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