x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

NBA players who are talking Turkey may be in for a culture shock

Ending the NFL's five-month freeze was quite an ordeal, but it might seem like a day in the park compared to the impasse within the NBA.

Kobe Bryant, playing in an exhibition game in Manila, Philippines, may play for Besiktas but he must brace himself for a team in turmoil.
Kobe Bryant, playing in an exhibition game in Manila, Philippines, may play for Besiktas but he must brace himself for a team in turmoil.

One pro sports shutdown resolved, one to go.

Ending the NFL's five-month freeze was quite an ordeal, but it might seem like a day in the park compared to the impasse within the NBA.

Mucking up the works: The dribblers and dunkers can wave options in the owners' faces.

The blockers and tacklers could, too, but not seriously. They could enlist with the United Football League, which fields only six teams and offers a standard salary of US$40,000 (Dh147,000), less than one week's pay for the typical NFL player.

Or the eight-team Canadian Football League, where the going rate is $50,000. Or Australian Rules Football, where mates without helmets and pads hope for a g'day without contusions and broken femurs.

Basketball players, by contrast, can become like the actor Chevy Chase and take a European Vacation. (If you missed that mid-1980s cinematic clunker, no worries.)

"Talking Turkey," an American idiom that means getting to the point, has taken on new meaning.

Already, Deron Williams has agreed to $5 million over a 10-month season with the Turkish club Besiktas. The same club that managed to survive a year with the eccentric Allen Iverson is also entertaining feelers from Kobe Bryant, who would likely accept no less than double D-Will's wage.

Among other American-reared notables dropping hints of interest in Euro-ball are Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant, Amare Stoudemire, Shane Battier and, beware, all Europeans, Ron Artest. Dwight Howard has expanded his horizons beyond the Old Continent, saying he would consider China, which needs a new 7-footer to look up to, now that Yao Ming will give it a permanent rest.

If you are a basketball celebrity in the US, there is much to like. You can earn enough money to stay current on payments for your mansion, entourage and fleet of cars. You will high-five everyone in sight when you hear these three words: tax-free earnings.

You can insist, as Williams did, on an escape clause in the contract that voids it once the NBA returns to normality.

Yet, while overseas leagues grant the players union some leverage, management need not feel threatened. Any eastward-bound parade of tall people would be a short one.

Money to pay the enormous salaries is limited. Besiktas had to secure a special sponsor to pick up the tab for Williams and is seeking another with ocean-deep pockets to cover a deal for Bryant.

Williams and Bryant might be guaranteed their cash. But Besiktas offers a cautionary tale that applies to many teams with a reputation for short-changing their lesser players.

A Turkish sports journalist was quoted by the website Hoopshype as saying that Besiktas wages have been paid late or not in full each of the past several seasons.

Two seasons ago "some of the [affected] players skipped practice and boycotted", Mete Atkas wrote. That off-season, three players complained about delayed pay-cheques and were banned from the facilities. So Williams, and possibly Bryant, must brace themselves for a team in turmoil. Lance Allred, a former globetrotting player, said that the NBA guys accustomed to luxurious surroundings are in for a shock. He recalled the typical European locker room as grease-stained and bug-infested, with broken showers. Travel is typically by bus.

Allred described the coaches as control freaks, unlike their NBA counterparts (aside from Larry Brown), who are more inclined to let the inmates run the asylum.

Some teams grind through two practices daily, he noted, and the players often are at the squad's mercy for public appearances and other commitments.

The Hoopshypearticle quoted the player agent Brad Ames as saying his firm had resorted to arbitration over pay disputes up to 10 times with their European clients.

"You just have to take precautions," he said.

Bobby Brown, a Europe survivor, would remind NBA players about rowdy fans who pelt the floor with dangerous and disgusting items. "I advise people to go over there not having high expectations, thinking they're about to do whatever or think it's easy, because it's not," he told ESPN.

A lasting memory for Josh Childress, back with the Phoenix Suns after two seasons in Greece, was fireworks exploding near his bench and tear gas wafting through the arena at his farewell game.

"It was unbelievable," he said.

Players with an adventurous streak might adjust. Or someone like Bryant, who spent much of his childhood in Italy.

Others are advised to read the small print - and between the lines - before taking the leap. Love of the game, not the need to be loved by owners and fans, should be their motivation.

sports@thenational.ae