NBA’s globalization puts shame to the NFL brand

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China isn’t the most popular topic in basketball circles just now. The Warriors think back to their jet-lagged preseason trip and wonder if it cost them a regular-season victory or two. UCLA’s lame shoplifters cast the entire collegiate game in negative light, not to mention their school, after a China trip gone wrong.

None of it means much in the long run. Assuming respectable behavior, every U.S. trip to China — or even visits on an individual basis, as was the case with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson during the summer — is a worthwhile endeavor with long-range benefits. And the contrast to the NFL could not be more glaring.


When a U.S. basketball star sets foot in China, Africa or anywhere else in the world, little kids flock to the scene. Their coaches get a free classroom in elite performance. Judging from the NBA’s ever-increasing international community — currently showcasing Giannis Antetokounmpo, a Greek immigrant of Nigerian descent, and Cameroon-raised Joel Embiid — there are no geographical limits on player development. There’s an entire world out there to unveil the next Kristaps Porzingis, Frank Ntilikina, Rudy Gobert, Goran Dragic or Dirk Nowitzki.

The NFL is America, period, and it’s remarkable more people aren’t hip to the scam. Under the guise of “growing the game,” the NFL plays extensively in London, with more games added to the overseas schedule each year. None of the relevant parties like the idea: players and coaches uprooted from their routine, fans losing a precious home game. It makes for proper (if temporary) amusement in London, but this is a greed-driven venture into the marketing of jerseys, T-shirts and other paraphernalia.

(Just as rude: Yanking a home game out of the Raiders’ schedule — against New England, no less, on Sunday — and sending it to Mexico, where soccer will always be king.)

A dying sport cannot be “grown.” Football’s demise is likely many decades from reality, but it’s not gaining popularity and will never expand worldwide. Soccer’s great beauty is its simplicity; kids can play it with a rock and shafts of lumber, if that’s what it takes. Only a fool believes that parents in Europe, Asia or South America blithely ignore the statistics on football-related concussions, the reports of high school players dying on the field, and the growing evidence of dementia and CTE among retired players — while prominent schools abandon the sport and doctors refer to youth football as “child abuse.”

“I want to see pictures from Birmingham or Liverpool (England), showing kids running around with helmets and shoulder pads,” said Bay Area sports consultant Andy Dolich. “Not gonna happen.”

But the NFL’s great lie persists, all in the name of money. Whenever commissioner Roger Goodell gets replaced by someone with moral standards and common sense, perhaps the dreadful international experiment will be shut down for good.

Around the NBA

•For those following Oklahoma City’s attempt to blend three great scorers into a fluid machine, a popular theory has emerged. “You’ve got to have one dominant personality,” Charles Barkley said on TNT. “There has to be a pecking order and nothing will change for the better,” said ESPN’s Jalen Rose, “until Russell Westbrook declares he’s gonna be ‘the guy.’”

It’s easy to fall into this trap. So many championship teams were guided by larger-than-life personalities: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Rick Barry, Michael Jordan, Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, LeBron James. But it’s a big mistake to declare this some sort of requirement.

Tim Duncan made certain the great San Antonio teams were built on an all-for-one mentality and a distinct lack of hierarchy. Who would you call the “dominant personality” among Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green? As if one of those guys has to be the man? If Westbrook decides to rise above Carmelo Anthony and Paul George, reverting to the conquer-the-world style that made him the league’s MVP last year, it won’t help Oklahoma City in the slightest.

•Encouraging: Friday’s video of Lonzo Ball with a sharp new haircut (that flying-saucer look had to go) and consistently drilling three-point shots in practice. Yo, critics: He doesn’t need to “learn how to shoot.” He learned it his way, years ago, and he’s been deadly from the outside until just recently. It’s a quirky shot, slow on the release, but as outside-shooting legend Dennis Scott noted, the ball looks just fine leaving his hand, and that’s what matters most.

Give Ball time to adjust to an NBA game he has found daunting, on many levels. If he regains his confidence and becomes the elite-level distributor everyone is expecting, let him keep that shot. He’ll figure out when and where to take it. If it’s still an alarming liability at season’s end, then the Lakers can work with him on an adjustment.

“To whom much is given, much is expected,” former NBA All-Star Chauncey Billups said on ESPN. “This is all part of being a rookie in the NBA. He’s got to kick himself out of this paper bag, and he will.”

•Unsettling: As a skirmish broke out between Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and the Suns’ Tyler Ulis on Friday night, Ball casually walked in the other direction, as if suddenly confronted by an encyclopedia salesman. He said he didn’t want to get a technical, but he has to be a presence on that scene, to let teammates know he’s got their back. Not a good look.

•Unbelievably bad: At halftime of Thursday night’s Houston-Phoenix game on TNT, the “Inside the NBA” crew devoted a five-minute segment to shameless advertising for American Express and something called “Shop Small,” with Shaquille O’Neal bestowing gifts upon Barkley, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson. Once again, these guys think they can get away with anything (festive eating is always in play), when in fact their audience is recoiling in disdain. Try watching ESPN’s weekday show, “The Jump.” You’ll get the same brand of high-quality analysis without the clutter.

•Also: Let’s all chip in so we can pay off Smith: Take this check, and promise you’ll never try to sing the “Sweet Georgia Brown” melody again. Otherwise, the off-key police are free to storm the building.

Bruce Jenkins is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Email: bjenkins@sfchronicle.com Twitter @Bruce_Jenkins1



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