Many think of the NBA as the be-all-end-all when it comes to professional basketball. The fact of the matter is that a lot of countries have pro leagues, and players can make a substantial living playing overseas.
How great of a living can they make? It depends on a lot of factors, but the low-end average salary if you get an overseas contract is around $50,000 a year.
There are several countries like Ireland where that number is way lower, although they offer other incentives to their players like room and board and part-time jobs when they aren’t playing.
Because overseas basketball is so widespread, the answer to the question “what is an average salary for an overseas player” is complicated.
Let’s dig a bit further.
Overseas Salaries By Country: A Breakdown
Playing overseas can mean a lot of different things. As we covered, if you are playing in Ireland, where pro basketball doesn’t have a high profile, you won’t become rich.
If you play elsewhere, like Spain or Russia, you could pull down a pretty penny being a pro hooper. Let’s break down some of the salaries depending on the country you play.
During the 2019-20 season, the three top European countries in terms of player salary were Spain, Turkey, and Russia.
Spain led the pack when it came to average salary at around $100K. In Asia, the average salary is similar to the top Euro leagues, but the best players had the chance to make several million US dollars in places like China.
To put that into perspective, let’s compare the top-paid player in the country’s most popular sport: soccer (futbol). Antoine Griezmann is a striker for FC Barcelona, one of the most decorated soccer teams in the world. He makes just over 30 million euros a year. That equals an annual salary of almost $34M US dollars!
Professional basketball will never be as popular as soccer in Europe and this comparison shows you the financial divide between the two sports.
So, what factors into a country’s ability to pay its players top-dollar? It boils down to two things: the sport’s popularity and just how financially secure the country is that you are playing.
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Overseas Basketball: The Best of the Best
The best overseas league, in terms of talent and quality of play, is the Euroleague. While Euroleague isn’t a standalone league, per se, it is a combination of the best European teams across every league. The most famous name to Americans who cut his teeth as a teenager in the Euroleague is Luka Doncic.
Doncic played for Barcelona’s basketball At the age of 18, Doncic won the Euroleague MVP Award, which put him on the map with diehard hoops fans.
We all know what happened afterward: Luka was drafted by the Dallas Mavs and has become the youngest player to lead the league in triple-doubles. Luka also won the Rookie of the Year Award and has already made two All-NBA teams before the age of 23!
Other NBA players who have taken their talents to the Euroleague are former Phoenix Suns great Amar’e Stoudamire, journeyman Luis Scola, and Nikola Mirotic (hold that thought).
Highest Paid Overseas Players
Did you know that the average NBA salary from the 2019-20 season was $7.7M?! Not bad for just being “average” (kidding!). Overseas leagues aren’t at that point financially, and probably will never be, but some guys certainly are earning a decent living.
Just a note before we hop into the list, most overseas leagues do not disclose player salaries like they do with US sports leagues. So, while these numbers aren’t a complete shot in the dark, it is difficult to know the exact salary numbers.
1. Nikola Mirotic, Barcelona ($4.5M/year)
Prior to joining the Chicago Bulls in the NBA in 2014, Nikola Mirotic had himself a career for Real Madrid from 2008 through 2013. He was a young up-and-comer for Real Madrid and was even a first-round draft pick of the Houston Rockets in 2011. His rights bounced around on draft night, finally stopping in Chicago, but Mirotic didn’t come to the league for another three years.
After a serviceable six-year NBA career, Mirotic went back to Europe where he signed a three-year deal with Barcelona. Since returning to Europe, Mirotic has become a star, earning multiple MVP Awards.
2. Shane Larkin, Anadolu Efes ($3.7M/year)
Shane Larkin rose to prominence in college at the University of Miami. Never known really as a basketball power, Larkin’s two years saw great success. His sophomore season, the Hurricanes took home the ACC championship and Larkin was named ACC Player of the Year. As MLB Hall of Famer Barry Larkin’s son, Shane had big shoes to fill and he did just that in college.
Larkin got drafted after his sophomore year by the Atlanta Hawks, before being traded to the Mavericks on draft night. Larkin bounced around the league for the better part of five seasons – with a brief stop in Spain – playing for the Mavs, Knicks, Nets, and Celtics. His last, and most successful, has been with Anadolu Efes, where he has played since 2018.
Larkin has been one of the top European players since making his debut. He helped Anadolu Efes make the Euroleague Final Four in 2019 and has been racking up the stats ever since.
3. Vasilje Micic, Anadolu Efes ($3M/year)
Larkin’s teammate, Vasilje Micic is arguably the best player in Europe right now and his team pays him nicely to keep the NBA suitors at bay. The two-time All-Euroleague selection, along with Larkin, is a big reason his squad was crowned the 2021 Euroleague champs. Micic took home a few personal accolades last season, winning both the Euroleague MVP and the Final Four MVP Awards.
While Micic has never played a minute in the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder do own his draft rights. Micic was selected in the 2014 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers before getting acquired by the Thunder in 2020. If Micic ever does make the trip across the pond to play in the NBA, his salary will surely increase.
As you can see, there are plenty of ways to make a great living playing professional basketball in non-NBA leagues. While the NBA is the “gold standard”, it is the most competitive league in the world.
The popularity of world basketball was put on the map in large part when the USA’s Dream Team took the international stage at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. If you have ever seen any of the scores of their games, you know how one-sided they were.
The world, however, has gotten more competitive on the basketball court, and so have their leagues. Overseas players can really hoop, and their hefty salaries display that. The more exposure they get, through games being more available to stream on the internet, the more their leagues can pay them. Maybe one day, the Euroleague will even compete with the NBA for talent. Never say never.
Have any of your favorite players ever taken their talents overseas to play? Let us know about it in the comments section!