Over the past few years, Saudi Arabia has tried to get more involved with other professional sports leagues. The most notable effort is LIV Golf, backed by the Saudi Public Investment Fund. The league spent a collective $800 million on its top six players, poaching stars away from the PGA Tour — only to announce a merger last month.
We've also seen Saudi teams making a run at soccer stars. Cristiano Ronaldo signed a massive contract that could pay him north of $200 million per year with Saudi club Al Nassr. And Kylian Mbappé has been offered a whopping $772 million from Al-Hilal for just one season of work.
Could the NBA be next? The Saudis have at least caught the eye of some of the biggest names in the association.
After hearing news of the Mbappé offer, both Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James have chimed into the conversation. They shared a pair of tweets expressing their interest in heading to Saudi Arabia.
Al Hilal you can take me. I look like Kylian Mbappe 😂😂👀 pic.twitter.com/VH0syez3VX
— Giannis Antetokounmpo (@Giannis_An34) July 24, 2023
— LeBron James (@KingJames) July 25, 2023
Sure, Antetokounmpo does kind of look like Mbappé and had some experience playing soccer growing up, but we won't be seeing a switcheroo here.
It does bring up an interesting question, though. Does the NBA need to worry about Saudi leagues poaching their players? Surely NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has to be a little worried — two of his league's biggest stars are saying they'd go overseas to collect more money. Though both guys are joking in this context, what if a team from the Saudi Premier League came calling?
We just saw Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics sign a five-year, $304 million contract extension. It's the largest contract in NBA history, and it breaks down to a little less than $61 million per season. If a Saudi team offered $300 million (or more) for just one or two seasons of play, a player might strongly consider taking that offer.
And it's not just stars. Some of the golfers who joined LIV were inconsistent pros. They were intrigued by fewer rounds, no cuts, and a guaranteed payday. If a guy is making $10 million a year in the NBA, and a Saudi team comes along and offers him $100 million — plus other benefits — that's a tough decision for the player to make.
For now, Silver can take some relief in knowing that come next season, LeBron will still be in Los Angeles, and Giannis will still be in Milwaukee. But he'll likely keep a closer eye on what's going on over in the Middle East.