What do Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Deron Williams and Dwight Howard all have in common? All are NBA superstars and ll of them are at or near the top at their position, but that is not it. All of them are seriously considering playing overseas if the NBA lockout extends into the season.
Williams was the player to first bring the possibility to the forefront. Williams is an accomplished point guard and was the first to join the New Jersey Nets movement to bring stars in and contend for a championship. Some native European NBA players had already decided to play in Europe, but the first major NBA star to throw his name in the European ring was Williams.
Now the aforementioned Bryant, Howard and Nash are joining a growing list of NBA players who will be looking to get paid to play overseas if the lockout takes away game checks. The dam is about to burst with a flood of NBA players heading overseas.
There is both good news and bad news to this situation.
The bad news is players will be deprived of the lifestyle they are accustomed to in the NBA. In Europe, the players will be revisiting their college days of shared rooms, smaller living spaces, different coaching styles and more importantly, different type of game in Europe.
No more Ritz-Carltons before every game, no charter jets for most teams and even though you will be known in Europe, they won’t have the celebrity status they enjoy in the states.For example, incoming Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio is seen as Spain’s answer to Pistol Pete Maravich, celebrated in his native country. Who here is counting the days until Rubio debuts in Minnesota? Exactly.
The majority of US players will be in for the same type of awakening in Europe. In Europe, the American players are usually the enemy. European teams don’t have the deep pockets the NBA teams do.
The Turkish team Besiktas has received a commitment from Williams to play and are recruiting Bryant to join them. However, they are short on funds to meet Kobe’s $1 million a month demands and are looking to get sponsorship to pay the rest.
Players will get a fraction of what they make in the United States, they will have to pay a fortune on insurance if they get hurt while playing overseas and the U.S. exchange rate overseas is still about two to one. In other words, one American dollar is worth between 60-70 cents in most European countries.
In the end, the players will be playing for next to nothing when you figure in whether or not they should bring over family and have them do with the language barrier. Does anyone think Williams knows any Turkish? Me neither. Losing the comforts of home and the downgrade in lifestyle would be things players would have to endure the longer the lockout continues.
The good news in all this is this could be the leverage the players could gain by playing overseas. What will the owners think when they see their meal tickets playing on other teams? How nervous will the Buss family be watching Kobe exert his aging body for someone else?
What will the Orlando brass think when they will have the hottest name in the 2012 free agent pool possibly jeopardizing his worth in trade if he gets injured? What will the Suns think watching their start point guard, who is under contract for one last season with the team in 2011-2012, whittle away his last season playing abroad?
As more players declare, more owners will get antsy and unwilling to let their stars make money without it benefiting them. The NBA is more of a global game than any other professional sport. When all the names that fill NBA arenas are seen playing in Italy, Spain, Turkey etc…, the owners may decide to come to the bargaining table sooner.
How excited would Dirk Nowitzki be to play for his native Germany next season? Would Pau Gasol love to return to his native Spain? Of course they would. Manu Ginobili could return to his native Argentina for the Olympics. Mehmet Okur could return to his native Turkey and form a new big three with Williams and Bryant. Tony Parker was born in Belgium and raised in France where he became a star shortly after entering the NBA.
The list goes on and on.
The native foreigners will be able to help with the surge of incoming NBA stars and they will also be able to get pointers from their counterpart WNBA players who commonly play in Europe in the offseason to supplement their income. If NBA players bolt to Europe as looks like at the moment, the burning questions are will the fans watch and will it be picked up in the U.S. on local and cable television stations?
If fans do flock to it, the owners lose power. If the access is limited or nonexistent, power stays in the hands of the owners. If the games are available and people are interested in watching it then the players may have gained an unintended advantage.
We’re on the cusp of an unprecedented move in the NBA should there be a mass exodus of players overseas. It would be a little shocking to see our favorite players in jerseys whose country name we can’t read but in the end, basketball is basketball. The game is timeless and universal. We would watch it with the same interest we watch the American Olympic teams.
Only this time we’re not cheering for our country, we’re cheering on our player.