By doing so, Kevin McHale is shaving a year off his professional basketball career. When he returns, he will still be an NBA rookie, having done nothing to advance his basketball career. He will undoubtedly be a big success, for he is a rugged 6-11 banger made to order for European ball. However, he will find the game easy to play, and as a result will acquire some bad playing habits.
In a sense, he will have copped out, plain and simple. Players of his caliber (OK, potential caliber) waste their time going to Italy. That league rewards the second echelon player who can't really make it over here. Go ahead, name an American who came back from Italy and went on to achieve stardom. Oh, he'll probably have a helluva time, and he'll be paid well, and if he goes there it won't be the end of the world. But he must realize exactly what he's doing.
Now for the truly interesting part. Don't automatically presume that when he returns, he will be Celtic property. There is currently under study an arbitration case with big ramifications. The issue is whether the Italian League is "amateur" or "professional," in our terms. If Telford Taylor, the Special Master ajudicating the case, rules that the Italian League is "amateur," then if McHale goes there and does not sign with the Celtics within a year, he comes back here as a free agent. If Mr.Taylor rules that the Italian League is "professional," then he would still be Celtic property.
Sure, the players are paid. Sure, American professionals play here, go over there, and come back here as professionals. But we're talking legalese here, not common sense. The Italians see their league in the same vein as the old National Industrial Basketball League (NIBL), of Phillips 66er-Peoria Caterpillar fame. To them, it's "amateur." So pay close attention to this one.