The BBL must unite behind a long-term vision if it wants to truly thrive, Alton Byrd claims.

Sage advice, and also a warning, from the man still regarded as the British Basketball League’s greatest-ever player as the domestic game faces up to the financial and operational trauma caused by the coronavirus outbreak that has put a reported £1 million of revenue in jeopardy.

Byrd, now 62, retains a close eye on his former stomping ground despite his prime position within the front office of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets where he is the vice-president of business operations overseeing their G-League offshoot in Long Island.

If the BBL were ever to appoint the kind of all-powerful Commissioner that has driven the NBA and NFL to immense heights, the former point guard would surely be a candidate to become playmaker-in-chief.

But for progress to be made, Byrd outlined in the latest edition of the MVP Cast, it would require the various team owners to finally act fully in unison rather than pooling resources to be no more than the sum of their parts.

“You have to get the owners together to determine what the league to look like and what you want basketball to look like,” he said.

“So what do you want the league to look like financially and what do you want basketball to look like? Because what they NBA has done brilliantly is to create a platform by which every kid can play and every kid has an affinity. So if you’re in Newcastle, you have a platform to play and you are connected like nothing you have ever seen. So you want a vision, make some suggestions, hear their feedback.

“Because what Jamie Edwards is going to do in Manchester is different from what Vince Macaulay is going to do (in London). And that’s different to what Paul Blake wants to do in Newcastle.

“You need an ownership group that understands that if the league is going to thrive, you don’t have to agree on everything but you have to determine the direction you want it to go. And I don’t think that’s ever happened.

“The strong are the strong. The weak just disappear. And then someone else comes in, saying ‘I’m going to do this and to spend a tonne of money’.”

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Helping to establish a G-League outpost in Long Island, Byrd admits, has employed many of the learning points he consumed during his BBL era when he was not only a hugely successful player but also a general manager for a number of teams, including the all-conquering Murray International and Crystal Palace.

But the NBA has a proliferation of data on its audience and a structure from top to bottom that has evolved and accelerated over the last four decades.

The BBL, he argues, is undermined by its loose collectivism and it remains a key reason why British basketball’s full potential was never realised in the wake of its initial boom.

There would be tough questions to be asked, he maintains, if a figurehead were to come on board to lead an overhaul.

“Why has it grown? Why has it restricted? You have to have hard conversations very early on, knowing that you need a really good labour lawyer because if you want to develop talent, what’s it going to look like,” Byrd said.

“What do you want your staffs going to be like? Who is going to sell this? How do you build out a Commissioner’s office that can monetise this – how can it be at its best and what do we need for it to be at its best?

“It’s like the route my dear friend and rabbi Ed Percival was going down. How do we do some of the things the NBA were when things weren’t at their best? How do we find the next Alton Byrd or Alan Cunningham? How to you turn the country on its ear and lock into that?

“I think there are good enough British players that – if they have training and nutrition and all the things we have at a G-League level – why wouldn’t they stay in the UK?”

Listen to the full interview with Alton Byrd in the latest edition of the MVP Cast. Stream it below or subscribe via our Podcast page.

Photo: NBA/Brooklyn Nets

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