As a passionate baseball fan, I love this time of year. Football and basketball are out of season, and America’s pastime rules supreme in the world of sports. But this year things are a little different. After the Commissioner’s trophy is lifted and a new World Series champion is crowned, I’m not sure if there will be an NFL or NBA season. We might be on the brink of the quietest sports winter in decades.
But being the eternal optimist that I am, I don’t think we’ll miss a single Tom Brady pass, a single LeBron James alley-oop. With so much money on the table, things should work themselves out sooner rather than later. Now I have no facts to back this up, no inside sources to fall back on. I just have to hope for the best and wait it all out.
As of this morning, however, the previously dismal NBA lockout situation looks to have taken a sudden turn for the better. As first reported by ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, Deron Williams will be taking his talents to Istanbul. For about $5 million, the All-Star point guard will play with Besiktas until the lockout ends, when he can opt out of his contract.
We’ve seen American players make the pilgrimage to Europe (most recently Josh Childress and Brandon Jennings), but never before have we seen a star make the move. Kobe Bryant has talked about playing across the pond, and the Greek club Olympiakos reportedly considered offering LeBron upwards of $50 million annually. But that was all chatter. Deron Williams is the first star to walk the walk.
The name of the game in negotiations is leverage. Says filmmaker Brett Ratner, “No matter how successful you are, you are not invincible. The studio is writing the checks. It`s all about leverage and who has the power. The goal is to get the biggest deal you can, because you are going to have to give something back to the studios anyway.” I’m not sure if Mr. Ratner has ever picked up a basketball in his life, but that sure applies to this lockout.
Before the NBA Players Association had the threat of star players leaving to play overseas, there’s not much they had to hold over the heads of the owners. Sure, owners would be missing out on selling $50 nosebleed tickets and $8 dollar beers, but when the minimun-salary players started missing paychecks, they would cave quicker than the billionaire owners. But now? Not so fast.
Expect more and more players like Deron Williams to start heading to the Euro League and Asia. The level of risk remains low–the injury risk is the same as if they’d be practicing in the states–and they’ll be making money playing basketball. They’ll stay in better shape that if they just ran organized practices like many of the NFL teams, and they have no commitment to their team once the lockout ends. Really, what is there to lose?
The trump card the owners had was that the bottom half of the league would start severely missing their paychecks around November. But now, these Garrett Temple-type players can make the move to a Spanish League team and make some money until the league opens back up.
For now, I have to believe that the momentum has swung towards the players. Remember, in the NHL lockout, over 350 players went overseas to play. Now of course, the percentage of foreign players in the NHL far exceeds that of the NBA, but there is still a major foreign influence across the league. Williams’ new team has made it known that they will target more NBA players, specifically Kobe Bryant. And once the dominos start falling, a mass migration of basketball players is not out of the question.
Williams’ move is the first of many to come. Will two All-Stars playing in Turkey make the owners rush to a less friendly deal? No. But could half the league playing overseas massively expedite this painful process? Absolutely.
The ball is now in the court of NBAPA executive director Billy Hunter. If he can encourage players to leave for Greece, Spain, China, and Israel, he could amount enough crucial leverage to end this lockout before the momentum of last season is gone. I’m not rooting for the players, and I’m not rooting for the owners. What I want to see–and what I’m guessing most fans want to see–is a resolution and more basketball. And if playing in Turkey is what it’ll take, I’m fully on board.