Wednesday, August 3, 2011

NBA Players Going Overseas: Impact Overstated & Risky Move

In July, the head of the NBA Union (NBPA) Billy Hunter issued a memo to his players encouraging them to play in Europe and elsewhere during the lockout.

The thinking behind having players go abroad is to put pressure on the NBA and its owners in the CBA negotiations. Basically, with its players making money abroad, the Union could then argue to the owners that the players don't need them.

"This lockout is intended to economically pressure our players to agree to an unfavorable collective bargaining agreement," Hunter wrote in his memo. "It is important for the owners to understand that there may be significant consequences to their decision to put their own players in these difficult economic circumstances.

"If the owners will not give our players a forum in which to play basketball here in the United States, they risk losing the greatest players in the world to the international basketball federations that are more than willing to employ them."

Problem is that the impact of NBA players playing overseas with a view to extracting leverage in CBA negotiations is very much overstated. Shooting hoops in Europe, China or India isn't going to force the NBA's hand one bit, and if history is any indication, the impact may well be non-existent.

In 2004-05, the NHL locked out its players and ultimately lost an entire season. Locked out, NHL players decided to head overseas and play hockey. And a lot of them went.

Over half the NHL population played overseas with a total of 388 players playing abroad. The list of players is impressive: Thornton, Chara, Nash, Morrison, Ovechkin, Boyle, Alfredsson, Heatley, Forsberg, Sedin twins, Aucoin, Fisher, Naslund, Chris Mason, Hartnell, Lecavalier and Richards. This list goes on.

And what impact did this have on negotiations on domestic soil? None. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

In fact, it probably reminded NHL players how good they had it here. Remember, playing abroad isn't all roses. Practically speaking, some players never get paid, the culture can be tough to deal with and safety can become an issue for players and their families. That's not to mention some guys had to watch Putin do push ups on their front lawn.

Oh yes - one more tiny point: if a player gets hurt playing abroad, his contract can be voided by the NBA team. Contracts don't protect players from playing abroad (or in summer leagues for that matter), and if they get hurt that can be the end of their careers.

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