Growing up in the United States, our vision for success in professional athletics is limited to the major four leagues—MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL. With the exception of soccer, track and field, women’s basketball and perhaps a few other sports, the US major leagues are the “premier” professional leagues—the prestige, visibility, and corresponding salaries, are the best in the world. However, our perspective is undoubtedly skewed, as opportunities are abundant around the globe. Two examples of recent Boston College alumni help illustrate this point.
Craig “The Rhino” Smith entered the NBA in 2006 after graduating from Boston College as the all-time leading rebounder and second all-time leading scorer. He has played atotal of 403 games over six seasons with Minnesota, Los Angeles, and this past season Portland. As a free agent this summer there were five NBA teams interested in him, but none offered him a starting position. In evaluating his options and goals, Smith surprised many when this past week he signed a one-year deal to play for Hapoel Migdal Jerusalem in Israel.
He was tired of being, as he put it “roster filler,” and this new team offered him a chance to play a prominent role. Smith stated “I was tired of being considered a nice guy and being the 10th guy on a team. I'm really sick of that. There's a fire burning in me.” Smith took considerably less money to chase playing time. Obviously, an outstanding year in Israel may make him a stronger NBA free agent candidate next year, but this was more about wanting to play basketball than “be in the NBA.” [Link to his interview here.]
Ryan Shannon, captain of Boston College’s hockey team during the 2004-05 season, has played 305 games in the NHL making stops in Anaheim (where he won the Stanley Cup in2006-07), Vancouver, Ottawa, and Tampa Bay this past season. Like all NHL free agents this year, Shannon would be left to wait for the resolution of the labor impasse between the NHL and NHLPA this summer, and the contract offer that would surely follow. However, like Smith, Shannon made a decision to go overseas and sign a three-year deal with the Zurich Lions of Switzerland’s professional hockey league.
Shannon, as husband and father, decided that he was after “a good environment for my family, something we’d enjoy…..we want to balance life. It’s not just trying to collect a paycheck.” With the NHL under the cloud of a potential lockout, by heading overseas Shannon secured stability for his young family, a guaranteed paycheck, and an amazing opportunity for a unique experience. [Link to his interview here.]
Neither Smith nor Shannon are all-stars in their respective leagues. Both are smart individuals who have a passion for their sport, but also know that they are not defined by what league they play in. Overseas leagues offer them a significant paycheck, opportunities to ply their craft in a competitive environment,and a slightly different career/life balance in an exotic new locale.
This migration is not limited to these two individuals. As labor conflicts in the professional leagues in the United States become almost routine, athletes are heading overseas with greater regularity—chasing opportunities and stability not available here. I wish Smith, Shannon, and the rest of our athletes heading overseas the best of luck in this new chapter in their lives.