During the NBA Lockout, many players have found themselves wondering whether to play in foreign markets, or to stay and continue training. Either way, rookies and veterans are looking to stay in shape during this unscheduled off-period. Check out this article on hoopsworld.com by Bill Ingram as he discusses the pros and cons to each option.
Now that FIBA has officially announced that they will approve the transfer of NBA players who are currently under contract (see the press release below), get ready for an onslaught of headlines regarding NBA stars joining foreign teams. The question now becomes, is that really what's best for the players or the teams they might be joining?
The first answer is yes. The toughest thing for players to do, including veteran players, is to stay in top condition and NBA shape while not playing NBA games. There are a number of veterans around the league who have managed to play the majority of their teams' games because they have excellent offseason programs, but those players are definitely in the minority. While ironmen like Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash have been able to stay on the court a high percentage of the time, you also have players like Tracy McGrady, Shaquille O'Neal and, perhaps most famously, Charles Barkley, who always seemed to feel like they could play their way into shape once training camp began. As a result, they all missed significant numbers of games, especially later in their careers.
Working out is one thing, but actually playing competitive basketball is the best way for NBA players to stay in shape while they wait for the lockout to end. As long as there is no NBA, FIBA offers the most competitive basketball atmosphere on the planet.
Off the court there are also plenty of reasons for players - especially star players - to take their talents overseas. Nothing could be bigger for adidas than for Dwight Howard to play a few games in China, where literally billions of basketball fans are waiting to embrace him . . .and buy his shoes, his jerseys, and even his characteristic Tech-fit sleeve. Nike can't wait to grab a larger share of the European shoe market behind Kobe Bryant, and so on. Bryant and Howard won't make anything like their NBA salaries playing elsewhere, but the extra money they make as a result of their expanded marketing brand should more than make up for it.
There are plenty of reasons for NBA players to seek refuge in the other basketball-starved corners of the world while they wait out what promises to be a cold war between the players union and the owners as they fight over the terms of a new collective bargaining agreement, but there are also plenty of risks involved.
First and foremost, don't expect to see any free agents playing organized basketball anywhere. Free agent forward Shane Battier recently joked that he's not even playing a game of pick-up basketball before he signs his next NBA contract; one wrong turn or misstep and a free agent could find himself looking for a different line of work. Having an NBA contract isn't much of a safety net, though. If a player under contract to the NBA gets injured playing elsewhere that contract can be voided, and that's a risk no player will take lightly.
At the end of the day, basketball players are going to play basketball. They're either going to play as part of their daily routine with one of the powerhouses of basketball - IMG Academy, Impact Basketball, Attack Athletics, etc. - or they're going to play on their own in less formal settings. It's not that much more of a risk to play competitively overseas, though the Euroleague teams to play a special brand of basketball that would make the touch-foul NBA set cringe. There are risks, as there are with any activity, but the rewards could well prove to make the risks worth taking for a large number of NBA stars.