NBA Players Taking Overseas Jobs Away?
Vets hooping abroad may be losing their spots to locked-out NBAers.
by Chris Haynes / @ChrisBhaynes
Aaron Haynes, 30, has played professional basketball overseas for eight years. He’s been fortunate enough to play in Finland, Dubai, Lebanon and Korea where he was the 2010-11 Korean Basketball League scoring champion. He just inked a one-year deal to play for the Jilin Tigers in China.
The NBA lockout has brought about a multitude of issues such as revenue sharing, hard or soft cap, and NBA players threatening to play abroad. That’s all fine and dandy, but an issue that’s not being discussed enough is the number of American basketball players who usually rely on overseas work year after year.
A player like Haynes, who has carved out an excellent reputation playing abroad, is known as a potent scorer who can play all four positions on the court. The 6-8 forward had to take a back seat this summer, but he finally got the call he was waiting for—from China.
“I was happy that they wanted to get me in. That let me know they took notice of my career and accomplishments,” Haynes said. “This was the longest that it took for me to get a deal done and I knew they were waiting on the fate of the lockout to see if they could snatch a NBA player.”
Players aren’t the only ones sweating out these unusual circumstances. Agents have been trying to keep their clients calm as they don’t know if their veteran overseas clients will be landing a job this season.
“Without question, things are a little bit different this year,” Chet Ervin of KMG Sports Management who represents over 30 athletes abroad said. “I’ve instructed my clients to be patient and to let the process play out and we’ll go from there.”
Having patience could be difficult for players as the NBA lockout looks to be a mainstay that could lead to more NBA players signing abroad.
Noel Felix, 29, has been a professional basketball player for seven years. His résumé includes stints with the Seattle Supersonics, Hapoel Jerusalem of the Israeli Premier League, Seoul Samsung Thunder in the Korean Basketball League, and he was the Continental Basketball Association Defensive Player of the Year in the 2004-05 season before it folded.
Felix hasn’t signed with anyone yet and he says he doesn’t view the lockout as the sole reason. Now married with a family, he’s simply not willing to accept any offer to play like he would have earlier in his career.
Being confident in his skills and his faith, he’s looking at this NBA migration from a different angle.
“I look at it as a great opportunity for someone like myself to go up against the best,” Felix said. “I got faith that I’m going to land somewhere regardless, but if you get the opportunity to play against big-name NBA players, that’s an opportunity to show scouts that you’re NBA material. Players should embrace that challenge.”
Most teams overseas are only allowed to have two Americans on the squad, max. The NBA has over 400 players and if half of the league goes overseas, that doesn’t leave much work for the players who usually occupy those spots.
“There’s no doubt that a team would sign a NBA player before they sign a proven American overseas player,” Felix said. “That’s the tough part.”
This has secretively been a sensitive and nerve-racking issue for those involved. The more NBA players that declare their interest in signing abroad irks hundreds of players who regularly ball in foreign territory.
Let’s say NCAA football coaches were locked out and suddenly put out on the market, some coaches would end up in the NFL, but a good amount would be coming for high profile high school coaching gigs. What would happen to the high school coach who loves coaching at that level? Sorry, the Oregon Ducks’ Chip Kelly would take that job.
As Haynes leaves for China in a couple days, he leaves with him a heavy heart knowing that some of the usual American players he’s used to competing with, may not make it over.
“I’m a pretty secure guy but it was scary for a moment,” Haynes said. “This is tough for some players and I hope eventually that I’ll see some of the same American faces over there.”
Felix mentioned that it’s like a fraternity when they all get together overseas. Players cling to one another because over there; they’re the closest thing they got to family.
“We appreciate the value and customs over there and we just like to play basketball. It’s not all about getting paid. We love to hoop,” Felix said.
The ideal process would be for the NBA owners and players to come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement. NBA players have a unique opportunity to continue collecting a multimillion dollar salary elsewhere; others, such as Haynes and Felix don’t have that option. Hooping overseas is their only option.
Just remember that with each NBA player that signs overseas, an overseas vet has lost his job—and that side of the coin needs to be told.