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NBA players overseas

Joe Wirth | Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Looks like Kobe Bryant won’t be wearing the Laker purple and gold at all this year. No, he didn’t get traded, but the increasing hostilities between NBA owners and the Players Association is making it more and more likely there will be no season this year.

So, where will they play?

Wherever the money is, and right now, the cash is overseas.

Money is the only reason NBA stars are considering playing internationally.

What once was reserved for collegiate players who could not make NBA rosters, Europe and other international locations have become attractive to elite stars because of lucrative contracts available. Many of the international teams are owned by wealthy companies and business owners who are more than willing to open their wallets to attract American talent.

Yes, stars like Kevin Durant, Deron Williams and Dwight Howard will be paid handsomely and will, without a doubt, excel against inferior talent, but the cultural adjustment will be more than any paycheck can compensate for.

NBA players are used to a cushy lifestyle. They play in beautiful arenas, stay at five-star hotels and travel from city to city on private jets. They live the good life. This, however, would not be the case if they play overseas.

In international leagues, players will stay at flea-bitten motels and play in dark, 8,000-seat arenas with limited security. In addition, they will play in front of certain anti-Jewish and anti-American audiences, especially in Turkey (where Williams plans to play).

In an interview with ESPN’s Rick Reilly, former UCLA star Josh Shipp, who now plays for Galatasaray in the Turkish Basketball League, gave an account of his experience overseas.

“I made a winning shot on the road one night,” said Shipp, “And next thing you know, I was getting pelted with batteries, cell phones, you name it. I had to run for it. But that’s nothing. I played with a guy who said they won a game on their rival’s court once and the whole crowd rushed the court. They had to punch people just to get into the locker room.”

Kobe, has that ever happened to you after a buzzer-beater in Madison Square Garden?

There is another story of Jimmy Baron, a former player at the University of Rhode Island who also plays in Turkey. He said in order to stop the team’s losing streak his Turkish coach superstitiously chopped off a goat’s head in the locker room.

I do not think that is a part of Phil Jackson’s Zen coaching technique.

Players like Bryant and Howard are grown men who can handle some of the distraction, but can you see them playing in Italy, in the equivalent of an American high school gym?

How much money does it take to buy happiness?

I understand the players want to play, but here is a message to those who are considering playing overseas: Try and negotiate with the owners instead of your travel agent.

Contact Joe Wirth at jwirth@nd.edu

The views expressed in the Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.