NBA Players Urged To Play Abroad During Lockout

With no signs that the NBA lockout will be resolved anytime soon, the players union is encouraging its members to take their talents overseas. New Jersey Nets Point Guard Deron Williams recently announced that he will play for a team in Turkey. Steve Inskeep talks with Pablo Torre, of Sports Illustrated, about the possibility more players will follow suit.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The NBA and the pro basketball players union are still very far from reaching an agreement. But you could still see your favorite players suit up in the coming season. It just might be overseas.

New Jersey Nets point guard Deron Williams recently signed a reported $5 million contract with a team in Turkey. One of his Nets teammates has announced he will be playing for another Turkish team. And so we're going to talk about this with Sports Illustrated's Pablo Torre, who's on the line from New York.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. PABLO TORRE (Sports Illustrated): Thank you.

INSKEEP: Why Turkey?

Mr. TORRE: Well, Turkey is actually one of these underrated basketball hotbeds. They have a very vibrant league. They actually signed Allen Iverson, who's on the downturn of his career, last year. The team Besiktas did. And now they add Deron Williams. And really along with Greece and Italy and Spain - one of the Eurasian countries that really actually has money to spend. They have sponsors willing to pay for these players to come over there and have an attraction.

INSKEEP: Will any really, really big NBA stars be heading overseas, do you think?

Mr. TORRE: Well, there's been talk about that. I mean, Kobe Bryant has been a name that the same team, Besiktas, has thrown out there. I think that has a little bit less credence, just because he is...

INSKEEP: Kobe Bryant.

Mr. TORRE: ...the number one global draw. That's right.

Dwight Howard recently mused about going to China. Ron Artest, the Los Angeles Laker, talked about playing in Europe. I mean, the bottom line, though, is that these are things you might say if you want leverage in a negotiation, as the NBA players are in engages in right now.

I think Deron Williams going over there, a genuine star, does make it more realistic. But we have to understand that this comes in the environment of an NBA players union that's actually encouraging players to seek out playing overseas just to counterbalance the NBA.

INSKEEP: Are the contracts overseas structured in such a ways that if the NBA season miraculously takes place that they can quit in Turkey or wherever and come back?

Mr. TORRE: Yeah. Billy Hunter, the executive director of the NBPA, encouraged them to go overseas but to have caveats in their contract that would release them in the case of the season starting domestically. And that's the case for Deron Williams.

The big concern, though, no matter what caveats they include, is what happens if they get injured. What happens if you tear an ACL in Turkey or in Spain? Your contract state-side would still be very vulnerable to that kind of twist of fate. And so it's a question of how much do you want to risk physically for this payoff in the temporary sense.

INSKEEP: A twist of ankle, twist of fate. Yes. So there's a risk. There's a risk to get that money.

Mr. TORRE: There is. There is a definite risk. I think players will complain also about lifestyle. The number one prospect to go over there was Josh Childress, who was a mid-level player in the NBA.

And he's been talking to reporters, basically blasting the basketball culture over there in terms of having to fly commercial, having to be paid on an uneven, irregular schedule, six and seven hour bus rides, not staying in the best hotels. So I think NBA players are beginning to understand at least that there's definitely a downgrade in terms of quality of life.

Now, obviously a trip around Europe or Spain or Turkey on a bus is something that we normal folks pay for. But in the NBA world...

INSKEEP: I hope they have lots of violins to play...

Mr. TORRE: Exactly. They get - these guys are accustomed to a very lavish lifestyle that they can't provide over there just yet.

INSKEEP: So what about the NBA negotiations themselves? Is there any possibility of a resolution or any movement in that direction?

Mr. TORRE: Honestly, observers around the league are saying that we should all be prepared to lose the entire season next year. And that's certainly something that agents who have been placing players overseas, the lower level ones, have been echoing since they heard of a labor disagreement as far back as April.

INSKEEP: Pablo Torre of Sports Illustrated. Thanks very much.

Mr. TORRE: Thank you.

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