Will overseas play bring the chickens home to roost on Stern’s Lock Out Leverage Monopoly?

On midnight July 1, 2011, after the NBA and the Players Association failed to come to terms towards a new league collective bargaining agreement, the NBA officially closed its doors. The first step in a lockout that some speculate will last as long as a full year putting NBA basketball on hold for the 2011 season. Shortly after the league locked out its players, several marquee names and lesser known NBA players either moved to sign contracts with teams abroad or discussed the possibility of doing so.

Amongst those players from the tri state area whose names were linked with the topic of movement overseas were the Nets, Deron Williams and the Knicks Amar’e Stoudemire (STAT) and Landry Fields. As all well know, on July 7, 2011, Williams agreed in principle a deal to play basketball during the 2011 season with a team in Turkey. On July 9, 2011, on the heels of Williams signing, STAT, tweeted (tongue in cheek we now know) that he would consider playing aboard for the heralded Israeli team Maccabi Tel Aviv. Meanwhile Landry Fields commented on the possibility of a star and general NBA player migration overseas.

A day after tweeting the possibility of playing basketball aboard in Israel, STAT tweeted that he would remain in NY and not sign a contract to play abroad despite several offers to do so. STAT’s announcement was consistent with his agents thoughts on STAT not likely signing to play abroad. STAT’s decision to forego playing abroad was also consistent with most critics belief that STAT would not play overseas  due to issues surrounding the insurability of his NBA contract due to questions regarding his health and durability.

Meanwhile players from other NBA teams followed Williams example by signing to play for teams overseas. Toronto’s Sonny Weems signed on to play with a Russian team and Darius Songalia formerly of the 76ers signed on to play for another Turkish team. But the biggest news regarding a possible NBA player migration over seas came from Miami Heat Star and Captain, Dwayne Wade. Wade openly discussed the strong possibility of a large migration of NBA Star players abroad in the event the NBA lockout drags on.

In prior years players such as Josh Childress, Carlos Delfino, Stephon Marbury and other NBA players left to play overseas for teams in China, Greece, Turkey,  Russia  and elsewhere. That trickle of an international migration of NBA talent from America, though lacking in marquee names, is part of the latest chapter of the internationalization of the NBA game.  That chapter may very well provide the players the sort of leverage needed to negotiate their interest in the next collective bargaining agreement more favorably. Many sources now believe that the migration of Marquee and journeyman players overseas in the context of the lockout can provide players the means to endure the league’s lockout thereby bolstering the NBAPA’s bargaining position in a lockout that can become a “war of attrition” amongst what now can be relative equals. 

There is kernel of truth to that angle. But in order to make that kernel pop what may be needed is the coordination of the NBAPA to turn and coordinate an individual player response to the lockout a collective union response. Say perhaps that players able to secure lucrative yet flexible contracts aboard work in conjunction with the NBAPA and surrender a portion of their salary depending on the amount earned from their overseas contract. The money set aside could be used to help sustain the remaining players in the rank and file of the PA who may not be able to secure a contract aboard due to a saturated international market that may value experienced local players over non marquee NBA players. If the NBAPA and its players can coordinate a collective rather than individualistic response to the leverage David Stern and NBA ownership has by way of its lock out then it just may be that the internationalization of the NBA may bring the chickens home to roost on the league’s once apparent lockout leverage monopoly.