If you’ve watched the NBA playoffs, you’ve seen the Oklahoma City Thunders’ rangy Swiss guard, Thabo Sefolosha, and his courtmate, human basketball swatter, and Spanish national, Serge Ibaka. To get to the finals, Sefolosha and Ibaka beat Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli, two international anchors for the very American San Antonio Spurs. In the finals, Sefolosha and Ibaka are facing off against Ronny Turiaf, the Miami Heat’s erstwhile benchwarmer, who hails from France, to see who gets to take the NBA Finals trophy away from German forward Dirk Nowitzki, the MVP of last year’s championship.
This seems like common sense – the best in their field want to come ply their trade in America, so why wouldn’t we let them? The increased competition has improved revenue for teams and created a better product for fans. But other sectors of the economy can’t follow the example of professional sport leagues. The government won’t let them.
The NBA is not alone in investing in importing the best human capital from around the world to maintain its edge. The Stanley Cup-winning Los Angeles Kings were powered by the goal scoring of Yugoslavian center Anze Kopitar; Ichiro’s arrival in Seattle to play for the Mariners was accompanied by a crush of Japanese advertising.
If coaches and fans alike can appreciate the benefits of an open labor market in sports, why can’t we take that lesson and apply it to far more important sectors of our economy.
Silicon Valley seems like a worthy case study. The Bay Area’s tech sector is the NBA of global technology. It’s not that you can’t start a great tech company anywhere with an Internet connection and some smarts, or that you can’t play basketball anywhere with a hoop. It’s that when you want to have access to the most resources, the biggest arena, the most attention, the most highly talented teammates and competitors, and, above all, the most money, you have to go to the Big Show.