Korea’s Basketball League Is as Tough as They Come

by ALEX HYUN | @ahyundarkb4dawn

International basketball abroad has been known to lack the glamour and allure of the National Basketball Association here in the U.S.

However, for many American basketball players making a living playing for a foreign league, the Korean Basketball League’s (KBL) annual Las Vegas draft is a lucrative way to extend their careers while earning a solid five-figure salary per month.

As recently written about in the New York Times, the annual KBL draft offers plenty of incentives—not to mention idiosyncrasies—for American athletes looking to make their mark abroad.

Considering the NBA’s minimum annual salary for rookies is approximately $500,000, a salary of $20,000 to $30,000 per month for a player in the KBL isn’t too shabby.

The KBL, which was formed in 1997, operates on an October through April playing schedule. The league features 10 teams, which play 54 total regular season games. Per KBL’s rule, each team may only enlist two foreign players. A majority of these foreign additions come from the U.S.

The KBL’s annual draft—held at the Palms Casino Resort— offers a unique structure to say the least. Because of the league’s desire to spread talent out, it has eschewed a free-agent market in favor of a draft. In other words, teams cannot sign whomever they wish from an international pool of basketball players—they are limited to two international players apiece, divided between first-round and second-round picks.


To put the league’s system into perspective, seven teams out of 10 have each won championships, while two teams—the Ulsan Mobis Phoebus and Jeonju Egis—have won 11 total titles out of 19.

With its current draft structure, the KBL is trying to ensure that lesser teams have a fair shot to improve each season.

In a separate piece about the KBL draft by the Guardian, the four-day event in Vegas is the only such event held by any international basketball organization.

That’s not all:

‌• Players’ contracts are non-negotiable and only last from August through February.

‌• After being selected by a team, players are immediately taken into a private conference room where they are expected to sign their contracts on the spot.

‌• Players’ agents are barred from attending the contract-signing in the league’s effort to prevent them from influencing the athletes’ decisions.

Once they’re signed and enlisted with a team, some American athletes have experienced a culture shock of sorts according to the Times.

One athlete, Davon Jefferson, was kicked off the Changwon LG Sakers last season for stretching during the playing of Korea’s national anthem during playoffs.

Rod Benson

Last year, KBL veteran Rod Benson, who won two championships with the Ulsan Mobis Phoebus, was booted from the team for lackadaisical play according to the Guardian. Other media reports suggest Benson was cut for demanding more money, an allegation the player vehemently denied in this Haps Magazine article.

Benson was a star player leading the Mobis to back-to-back championships, averaging 8.6 rebounds and 12.8 points per game in his last season, according to Haps.

In the NBA, in comparison, a player won’t get axed immediately if he’s a big contributor. It would take a lot for an NBA team to get rid of a star player in most cases.

All of which goes to indicate, the KBL holds honor and respect towards authority in higher regard than sheer performance.

Benson, selected by his former team, the Wonju Dongbu Promy, in this year’s draft, is now playing for the Dominican Republic reports Eurobasket News.

The KBL’s odd drafting process has been a divisive issue even among the league’s teams, according to the Guardian. There is a possibility that this year’s draft might be the last, with the league possibly pursuing a free agent system starting next summer.

Though its draft process is unconventional, the KBL nevertheless is known to be one of the more professional international basketball associations.

“They know how to treat American players over there,” Leo Lyons, who played for the KBL, told the Times. “You can go through hell in Europe sometimes. And then you go to Korea, and they’re on time with the money. They treat you well. You can just focus on basketball. It’s all good.”

See Also


21-Year-Old South Korean Lee Jong-hyun to Test NBA Waters

Closer to Barcelona Debut, Lee Seung-Woo Calls Out His Critics


All photos via KBL 

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