x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

A laborious process: Locked out NBA stars on playing abroad

Stalemates in American sport could prove to be profitable for other nations as players look for work abroad.

Deron Williams could head to Turkey to continue his basketball career.
Deron Williams could head to Turkey to continue his basketball career.

They do say the world tilts eastward nowadays, so maybe Deron Williams could just follow some sort of cosmic flow.

With a labour impasse in the NBA, the outstanding guard of the New Jersey Nets faces an autumn and winter potentially devoid of games and salary, so his agent told ESPN that he might just go play in Turkey.

The Turkish club Besiktas, who once employed the aged American star Allen Iverson, confirmed the prospect.

Some charged Williams with one flagrant count of selfishness as the players' union wrangles with the club owners over percentages of profits, but such a move might have benefits beyond the sporting sphere.

If Williams does go to Turkey, he could attain a fresh knowledge of geography sorely needed in his country.

If a number of his fellow players matriculate likewise, they, too, could learn of the existence of new places and heal some of the dumbfounding unawareness in an insular country.

These players, in turn, could return when the NBA reopens and tell of new-found lands - or at least of the calibre of room service in the better hotels of the new-found lands.

At the moment, two of the three giant North American leagues - the NFL and NBA - undergo labour snags, with lockouts of players and threatened lockouts of players and imperilled upcoming seasons and chatter about cancellations of upcoming seasons and so on.

There is ample talk about economics, and occasional visits to courtrooms, all to produce the very kind of tedium people tend to follow sport to avoid, and the very real debates that forever puzzle those not so well off, especially during the lingering strains of vast recession.

Both leagues have had past seasons truncated, if never cancelled outright, by management-versus-labour sagas, while the continent's fourth-biggest league, the National Hockey League, missed one season and 1,230 games altogether (2004/05).

The world continued rotating on its axis, and Canada continued to exist, and 388 NHL players honed their crucial geography skills in 19 European leagues, bringing together divergent groups of people who could join in a collective understanding of the icing rule.

That Williams could consider, so rapidly and so prudently and so adventurously, the life of an expatriate point guard in a different and fascinating culture, and that he could make excellent money if ever actually doing so, tells us still more about the world's ever-increasing fluidity, how countries and borders mercifully matter less and less and less. We can't play in New Jersey? OK, I'll play in Turkey.

At an extreme edge of imagination, it makes you wonder if some ambitious country out here merely could invite one of these entire leagues to relocate for a year within its environs, with different team arrangements, of course.

Maybe the country in question would have been alluring enough to attract, for example, Diego Maradona, football manager. Or, I don't know, the Club World Cup. Maybe it could take advantage of any impending stillness in the NBA by staging some sort of game, or series of games, something to render that aspiring country even more influential upon the sporting map.

Facilities-wise, the NFL would be something of a reach for any country, not least because all the equipment would challenge the checked-luggage weight restrictions of most airlines, and because the players might end up embarrassed wearing all of it if they landed in a place that featured, say, rugby.

That, and no country should want to welcome that lousy cast of owners, for fear they might stay on.

For basketball, however, with just a brush-up of a few facilities, the invitation and enticement of a cluster of players, maybe a series of all-star games, and who knows …

Meantime, these issues usually do sort out themselves. While two leagues dance this routine facet of American life - the big-sports labour dispute, so familiar by now it ought to have its own set of traditional parades - Major League Baseball plays through its summer.

It lost the last and most crucial third of its season in 1994 and nearly committed grim rehash in 2002.

Its players did not announce any plans to go to Turkey because of the minor inconvenience of Turkey not being noted for lavish baseball salaries.

For basketball, though, far-flung lands might keep an eyeball cocked westward.

culpepper@thenational.ae