The state-run Chinese Basketball Association has effectively decided not to allow NBA players to join its ranks. They haven't outright banned NBA players, but the CBA has decided that it will not allow expatriates to join their teams with contracts that include an opt-out clause. Such clauses would make it easier for locked-out NBA players to leave their potential Chinese teams should the lockout end during the CBA season. China would like you to either sign for good, or stay away completely.
And while that might come off as hubris to some, how can you not applaud that line of thinking?
If anything, the CBA is thinking basketball first, and profits second. Teams from around the world, including NBA squads, have long hired players because of their ability to lure in profits from gate receipts even if their work might fly in the face of winning basketball. And while Chinese teams would no doubt rake in the cash from leasing even middle-road NBA stars to their teams for a truncated term; the coaches, team and league executives have made their voice heard.
HoopsHype relayed the story earlier on Thursday, from Sports163.com (a piece you'll be unable to read if you're not fluent in Mandarin), and it falls in line with what we've heard for a few weeks now. The CBA has decided that opt-out clauses are a detriment to team chemistry, even if the team isn't all that good (and NBA players, relative or otherwise, are really, really good), and this could put a chokehold on the last real pipeline NBA players would have between their locked-out league and international employment.
Why? Well, the international basketball scene isn't exactly rolling in the dough these days. A Turkish team struck first in signing Deron Williams(notes) away from the New Jersey Nets last month, but Turkey is in a rare stratum due to their insistence on not being part of the European Union. With the EU dropping even in relation to the flailing U.S. dollar, international teams don't have much cash to throw around, so it falls to fringe types like Daequan Cook(notes) to fill out their rosters.
Even those roster spots are in short supply, though. And even if NBA stars want to take a significant pay cut from what they'd usually be making had the NBA not locked them out, there just isn't enough cash overseas to help these players live up to the "I'll take my guy to Greece! Or Russia!" bluster that most of their agents are trying.
And if the CBA, which famously took a chance on the mercurial (to say the least) Stephon Marbury(notes), is passing on signing potential flight risks (no matter how many MVP awards they own), then you can be darn sure that less lucrative leagues will be doing the same. It just isn't worth it, even if you get to showcase an NBA First-Teamer for 25 games in your home arena.
There is always the chance that a player like Bryant, flush with inside knowledge regarding a lockout that might not end until the fall of 2012, will sign with a team in the CBA without an opt-out clause in place. But while the shoe companies would applaud such a move (and likely throw their heightened fiscal endorsement into the ring, considering the lucrative Chinese market), it's hard to understand why an NBA star would want to make that jump. Even for someone like Bryant, who is obsessed with playing as much basketball as he possibly can.
This all spirals back to the CBA, though, and the decision it's made. The Chinese Basketball Association has clearly chosen sound basketball chemistry over potential profits, and you've got to give it up to an organization like that.
Good basketball over cost certainty. What a novel concept. Pity the NBA and its players can't attempt to locate the same mindset.