Who would win, NBA or CBA?
Before I played in the NBA, I played professional basketball in the Continental Basketball Association. At that time, there were only two leagues in the United States that ran concurrently, the NBA and the CBA. These two leagues were the best in the world.
Since there were the only two leagues, there was a very fine line between those that made the NBA and those that did not. The talent wasn’t watered down like what we see with today’s different professional basketball leagues. The IBL, the NBA D-League, and the ABA were not in existence. Actually, the D-League was derived from the CBA. This was a necessary evolution, as professional basketball was in need of a true farm league and that is what the D-League has provided.
In the CBA, the highest paid players were banking about $1,000 a week after taxes. The contracts pay the player for the time DURING the season. A season that lasts for only 56 games equals about 4 months of playing. That being said, about $16K was take home for the players.
The talent that was in the CBA during this era was very good. Some players were just OK, but there were many that deserved to be playing in the NBA. They had the ability to play the game of basketball at a very high level, under tough circumstances; a different set of challenges than the NBA. Some of these challenges included lack of pay, and difficult commercial travel in buses and airplanes. We also faced less than desirable basketball courts, trainers, and living accommodations both on the road and at home. Yet we overcame. It made making the NBA that much more awesome for those of us who did.
During the 1993-1994 Season, I played for the CBA team, Quad City Thunder. Home court for the team was on the border between Iowa and Illinois, along the Mississippi river, which was about 1 1/2 hours away from where I grew up, Washington, Iowa. We had a great team. The roster consisted of: Jay Webb, (Iowa) Bobby Martin (Pitt.), Barry Mitchell, Randolph Keys, Chris Childs, Tate George, Dirkk Surles, Harold Ellis, Ashraf Amaya, Morlon Wiley and Cedric Henderson. All went on to play either in the NBA or overseas with measured success the next season. I was a role player and knew my role, and without my talented teammates, we would have not been successful. But I am quick to note that I started 50 of the 56 games and also played a big part of the team’s success.
Uncommon to today’s standards, this team was like a family. We all got along and enjoyed each other throughout the year and proudly won the CBA Championship with a 12-2 record in the playoffs. Since we were the CBA Champions we enjoyed around $5k more by achieving this feat. You become pretty close to a group of guys fighting for a common goal in less than ideal circumstances. When I talk about those days, I always joke and say “I was the white guy” because I WAS the only white guy!
During my days in the CBA, players were often called up to play in the NBA during their CBA careers. I was lucky enough to be one of those players that got that chance. At that time, since the talent between the two leagues was very close, getting to the next level had a lot to do with being at the right place at the right time.
Once I made it to the NBA, I realized just how close it was. As I mentioned earlier, I had played with and against CBA players that deserved to be in the NBA. I also realized that there were NBA players that might not even garnish big successes in the CBA. I would often think about how good NBA players had it in comparison to CBA players. The next level meant private air travel, meal money that jumped from $15 to $120 a day, Ritz Carlton living arrangements, unreal paychecks, TV and media coverage, beautiful women…and fame.
Right now, NBA free agent players are lining up for the big pay-day. These players have worked their entire lives to get to the point in their career where they can be paid amazing amounts of money for their services. The talent is second to none. We are witnessing athleticism; sheer quickness, strength, flexibility, and endurance to the highest level achievable for the human body. These are the most talented basketball players in the world. On top of that, the game continues to change as basketball is ever evolving.
They are definitely going to be some of the richest athletes that professional sports have ever seen. Per capita, the NBA player is the highest paid professional athlete in the United States. They sign guaranteed contracts that on the average bank more than $5.15 million per year. This is expected to rise in the coming years due to the collective bargaining agreement (CBA). In comparison, the average Major League Baseball Player’s salary is around $3.2 million, NHL $2.7 million, and NFL is $1.9 million. I believe that every player has the right to accumulate as much money as they possibly can with the most years of guaranteed money they can muster. In reality, their playing careers are short, ten years as a professional player is a good stint. They make a lot of sacrifices, both physically and in their personal lives. They make a lot of money for their franchise owners and the NBA.
Don’t get me wrong, these athletes are worth every penny. However, I have always wondered, what would have happened if my CBA team, Quad City Thunder, played against the NBA teams? What would happen if these players got the chance to play at the next level, FOR PEANUTS? Without a doubt, they would have played against the NBA teams if given the opportunity, no matter the pay. I also know that if that had happened, it would definitely upset the value of what the players are getting paid today!
I believe Quad City Thunder could have beaten teams in the NBA. Why do I believe this? We were a team of players battling daily, overcoming difficulties and getting paid peanuts in comparison to NBA players. Therefore, we were just as hungry, if not a lot hungrier to succeed in professional sports. I believe we could have done it because of that and because we were a team that worked together without big egos or millions of dollars to get in the way. How we played together, our determination and ability to overcome would all factor in. Unfortunately, we will never know.
When I look back on my 10-year career as a professional basketball player, for a number of reasons, my year with the Quad City Thunder was my favorite. I got to play in front of family. I met my wife. I got to play on one team for the entire year. I got to play with a talented, team-focused group of players. We were CHAMPIONS on a team that today, even though I have not seen these players in years, I am happy to know that they are my good friends, for life.