August 23, 2011
NBA players go Wild, International
It's been 55 days, 7 hours, 5 minutes, 14 seconds, and counting since the NBA announced that it will commence a lockout of its players, until a new collective bargaining agreement is reached with the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), as per the excellent counter on SLAMOnline.com. There was never going to be basketball in the off-season, anyways, but with a lockout, there will be no official training camp, no Summer League, no pre-season, and no regular season until the agreement is reached.
Take a deep breath, inhale the disaster and depression of this happening, and then exhale it all out. There is an extremely faint silver lining to all this doom and gloom.
One of the most interesting lists currently online is on the excellent basketball website, HoopsHype.com. Go to HoopsHype.com/Overseas.htm and you will immediately unlock a wealth of information in one short html page. This is because this page currently lists NBA players who have signed a contract to play with international teams during the lockout, and another list of players who are considering it. NBA players aren't just the world's biggest basketball superstars, they are also the world's hardest working basketball players, and like you and me and your cousin and that guy you punked on the court last week, they really, really love the game. A prolonged period without competitive basketball can be hell for even the best of them, and that's why, many NBA players are opting for the next best solution: playing overseas until the issue is resolved. FIBA cleared the way for NBA players under contract to play overseas until work stoppage, and many players are taking advantage of this.
Now, NBA players have been flirting with the overseas option for a long time. Amongst the American players who have made the jump recently have included former MVP Allen Iverson (who played for Besiktas in Turkey last year), Stephon Marbury (played in the Chinese Basketball Association, the CBA, for the Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons and the Foshan Dralions, and was the CBA's all star MVP!) Josh Childress (played for Olympiacos in Greece from 2008-10), Rafer Alston (for Zhejiang Guangsha in China), Casey Jacobsen (who has spent several years in the German League, and has dominated, winning Finals MVP twice), and Steve Francis (who had a failed stint with the Beijing Ducks in China). Of course, a lot of the NBA's international players have also chosen to go back to their home countries in the past after a stint in the NBA, such as Rasho Nesterovic, Juan Carlos Navarro, Fran Vasquez, and many many more whom I can't think of right now.
But now, the situation is different. Of course, the NBA is considered to be the Mecca for basketball stars, as the ultimate destination for the world's best players. Earlier, NBA stars went overseas if they weren't getting their desired salary/role/opportunity to play with the NBA; now, with the lockout, none of the players will be getting their desired salary/role/opportunity. It's a free for all.
The biggest name to sign an overseas contract so far in this lockout has been Nets' point guard Deron Williams, who made waves by announcing that he was going to sign with Besiktas in Turkey for the duration of the lockout. Williams, one of the best point guards in the NBA, immediately becomes the best "in his prime" player to take his talents outside the NBA, at least in recent years.
Since the lockout, Williams has been followed by many more. A quick glance of the list of 30 players (and growing) on HoopsHype shows up names such as Toronto's Leandro Barbosa, who has signed with Flamengo in his home country of Brazil, Nenad Krstic, who will be heading to play for CSKA Moscow in Russia, Ty Lawson has signed a contract with Zalgiris Kaunus in Lithuania, and Nicolas Batum of the TrailBlazers is going back to France to play for Nancy.
The biggest name who has been linked with overseas play though has been Kobe Bryant. Kobe was recruited heavily by Besiktas in Turkey and by Shanxi Zhongyu in China. So far, there has been no formal commitment by Kobe, but watch this space.
China seems to be by far the best destination for NBA players, and funny, that the one to make the breakthrough in this country was NBA-nutcase Stephon Marbury. But the problem with China is that the CBA have aren't happy with NBA players using them and leaving them: they have decided to ban players already with an NBA contract to sign a contract with a Chinese team. Immediately, players like Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, Amar'e Stoudemire, etc, who had expressed interest in China before, had to back off a bit. Kobe could still play in China though, as Shanxi Zhongyu has invited Kobe to play for the team in some warm-up games or exhibition games before the CBA season starts, which is not against the rule.
Amongst the other players who are showing interest in going the international way include Ron Artest, who has been flirting with the Cheshire Jets, a team of the British Basketball League. Brandon Jennings, who spent one year playing in Italy before coming to the NBA, is considering heading back out there again. Other players showing 'high' interest to jet overseas include Stephen Curry, Andrei Kirilenko, Aaron Brooks, Jared Dudley, and many, many more.
Not everyone, of course, feels that it is necessary to sign a professional contract overseas to play overseas: the mother of all lockout/international news came from the Philippines, where Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Durant, Chris Paul, JaVale McGee, James Harden, Derrick Williams, and Tyreke Evans played in two exhibition games. News is that after the success at Philippines, NBA stars like Durant, Rose, Paul, and Pau Gasol will head to Australia for a tour next.
Back in the States, Kevin Durant has been absolutely killing the street basketball world this lockout, including an impressive 66 point game at the Rucker Park. Kobe and James Harden have had impressive performances at the Drew League. There have been several other notable streetball appearances by NBA stars.
And then there are players who are getting even more creative with their time: The Lakers Luke Walton has joined the University of Memphis as an assistant coach. Former Kentucky players like John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Rajon Rondo, Eric Bledsoe, and Jodie Meeks might go back to complete their education. A former Volleyball superstar, the Rockets' Chase Budinger returns to try his hand again at the sport.
And it's a good thing, too, because there is nothing more dangerous and being idol in many cases. Already, the off-season has seen NBA players get themselves in all sorts of wildness. Michael Beasley was caught with weed, and later shoved a fan during a streetball game. Matt Barnes punched a fan, too. Darius Miles, who was arrested for trying to bring a loaded gun through airport security, Rafer Alston, who was sued over his alleged role in a strip club fight, and Samaki Walker, who allegedly tried to eat eight grams of marijuana during a traffic stop in Arizona, during which police also confiscated prescription drugs and liquid steroids. The great Kobe Bryant is being accused of hitting someone who tried to take a cell-phone photo of him in church.
Aaaaahhh... How I miss the good ol' days when the daily basketball related news items were about Derrick Rose winning an MVP or LeBron James choking against the Mavericks. Now, we have to deal with an off-season of emptiness, with no horizon in sight, although it has been mildly improved by the NBA players' enthusiasm at playing the game they love, whenever and wherever!
The NBA may or may not be coming soon (probably the latter), but there is hope ahead: The European Basketball Championship, or EuroBasket, featuring the best players in Europe, including several NBA stars, kicks off in Lithuania in a little more than a week. As the message on the T-shirts that some NBA players wore of the Goodman-Drew streetball game says: 'Basketball Never Stops'.