by , USA TODAY Sports

 

When it comes to jobs that are hard to land, it doesn’t get much tougher than the NBA.

At most, there are 450 roster spots to be had by the world’s best players. Consider there were approximately 5,600 Division I men’s college players in 2014 in America alone, and you start to understand it’s nearly impossible to get hired in The Association.

Let alone stay there for as long as you’d like if you do get in.

Behold The Champions League, a non-NBA affiliated venture where the league’s chairman and CEO, Carl George, is hoping to provide family-friendly and affordable entertainment during the NBA’s downtime. The vision, expected to be announced formally today, looks like this.

• Sixteen teams to begin competing in the summer of 2016, with a strong preference for players who have competed in the NBA during the last three years. According to George, the New York team is already fully formed and includes former NBA playersAl Harrington, Rasheed Wallace and Maurice Ager. Teams in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Miami, Orlando, Atlanta and Cleveland are up next, with the goal to employ approximately 250 players in all (170 on teams, others as player-coaches or in other roles). Each team would have two former NBA All-stars on the roster and aHall of Famer in the front office. George said that 60 players have committed to this point, with many more “in the pipeline” while the subsequent teams are rolled out.

 

Approximately 30 games to be played in July and August, with 10 charity/marketing events in non-NBA markets during the non-season months also included as part of a player’s compensation package. On average, George said, players would make approximately $200,000 per year (for 80 or 90 days of work) in their pay structure if they take part in both the season and the charity events.

The strategy to attract the best-of-the-rest players is simple: provide a far better payday than the NBA’s Development League (top tier approximately $25,000) while offering a more-comfortable alternative to the overseas route that can certainly lead to more money but that, inevitably, requires a life-changing relocation. Or, of course, some players who didn’t have worthwhile NBA summer league invites in July could play in the D-League/overseas and the Champions League as a way to, in essence, double-dip. Flexible player contracts are a selling point here, and there’s this added bonus that could surely improve the competition too: Division-winning players get a $50,000 raise, and championship tournament winners — it’s a March Madness style tournament setup — would earn an extra $100,000 as well.

 

Players prolonging their careers that are so often cut short, the businesses that provide the bankroll benefiting from their brands, and fans seeing quality basketball for $25 per ticket (there are no season ticket packages, but plenty of discount offerings for multiple-game packages).

“As surprising as it might sound, it comes as a surprise to most of (the players) when their career does come to an end,” George told USA TODAY Sports. “What we become, then, is a transition from that point forward. And we’re thrilled to be at that place. We’re the next step in the evolution.”

While some former NBA players have given only verbal commitments to this point and others have signed actual contracts, it seems clear that there will be a significant buy-in from their shared community. To that end, Keyon Dooling is ecstatic about what the league might provide for his brethren.

Dooling, who played 13 NBA seasons in all before retiring in Sept. 2012, is better known in recent years for his brave role as an unflinching author. His book, “What’s driving you? How I overcame abuse and learned to lead in the NBA,” not only shares stories of the child abuse he endured growing up but of the lessons learned in the league that led him to this point. And while some of his colleagues have concerns that the NBA might see this endeavor as a conflict, Dooling – who will not only play in the Champions League but has helped with recruiting efforts – sees it as a special chance to make the transition to retirement even easier for some.

“It’s not about the money,” Dooling, who still serves the NBA Players Association as the Western region player representative, told USA TODAY Sports. “Most guys will tell you that they miss the community in the locker room, the camaraderie in the locker room, they miss their favorite restaurants that they used to travel to in all these different cities, that they miss the noise of the crowd. Those are some things that even a hundred million dollars can’t fill that void.

“At the end of the day, I’m the one – because of who I am and what I’ve been through – I’m the one who hears how difficult this transition is for our players. I’m privy to all that information…I know that guys have not transitioned as smoothly as I have. I know the impact this (league) is going to have on my brethren. That’s why I’m so passionate about it, because it’s a great opportunity to help one another transition, help one another heal, and you can scratch a living for yourself to be able to be comfortable as you figure out what the next step is. I think it’s genius.”

Yet as George is well aware, the question here is whether this league — or others like it that have come and gone before in the sports world — has the kind of capital to make it sustainable.

“We are committed to being well capitalized, and all that precedes the play,” said George, who describes his background as “building software companies” and whose bio cites 25 years of “business development history” that includes involvement with four businesses that were purchased by Fortune 100 companies. “You see a lot of people launch (these kinds of leagues), and then run out of (financial) runway. We said, ‘Let’s build the runway, and let’s make sure it’s there — take a day and stop and look at it and smile about it — and then let’s start landing planes on it.’ That’s the sequence.”

More importantly, the league’s backers — which include fashion icon Tommy Hilfiger— are singing the same song.

“We are legitimately very, very excited about this,” said Champions League partner Bernt Ullman, who is president of Star Branding and a longtime partner of Hilfiger’s. “When you look at some of the names, you have iconic names here, and they do resonate. And the reality is that sports merchandising and the business of sports is staggering. So this, to me, is a very large asset that I anticipate we’ll be able to leverage across multiple product categories and deal structures, and I think we’ll have a lot of fun in the process.

“Not to toot our own horn too much here, but we clearly have a choice, a quite significant pipeline of opportunities that we can involve ourselves in. And the reality is that there’s only so much time, so we try to only involve ourselves in projects that A) we think can be highly successful and B) have a lot of longevity. The reality is, we’re part of this for that very reason…We firmly believe in this.”

The first charity game, scheduled to be aired on ESPN’s digital channel, ESPN3, will take place on Jan. 29 in Saint Louis University’s Chaifetz Arena. Proceeds from the event will go to the Jimmy-Valvano-inspired “V Foundation” and the “Stuart Scott Memorial Cancer Research Fund” which is in honor of the ESPN broadcaster who died of cancer in early January. Among the expected participants in that game, according to George: Rip Hamilton, Brandon Roy, Josh Howard and Harrington.

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