Europe's NBA stars strike out for championship
Over 30 NBA players join their national teams rather than wait for the lockout to end.
Danilo Gallinari of the Denver Nuggets recently said he was lucky to have the EuroBasket tournament so he could concentrate on basketball with the Italian national squad, taking his mind off the United States and the NBA lockout. However, in past years he seemed to do everything to avoid the Italian team while he focused on his NBA career. The forward is not the only one to have a revived awakening of nationalism - over 30 NBA player will be participating in the championship which kicks off tomorrow in Lithuania.
While the lockout is a boon for the EuroBasket's star power, it also creates financial headaches for the national federations. Since the lockout began in late June, the league has stopped covering its part of insurance costs for its players on national squads - which stands at 80 percent. The resulting burden for teams with NBA players who make tens of millions of dollars is almost unbearable.
FIBA reached a compromise with heads of the national associations in which it agreed to buy collective insurance, but the quality of that policy did not satisfy everyone. In France, for example, the players received a separate policy.
The Spanish association announced that the insurance for its six NBA players, whose contracts are worth $100 million, would be $5.8 million. Any teams who can't meet the costs and have players who refuse to accept the collective insurance will have to get by without their stars. Such is the case with Marcin Gortat of the Phoenix Suns, who said he could not take a risk playing for Poland, and the Detroit Pistons guard Ben Gordon, who let down Great Britain once again.
Most players, however, have heeded the call of their homelands, even those who have in the past been patriotically challenged such as Frenchman Joakim Noah, who dropped talk of injury and exhaustion, and Gallinari.
France's Nicolas Batum said the strike at this point no longer matters. Rudy Fernandez tweeted he could not wait to play together with his Spanish compatriots. Russia's Andrei Kirilenko is leaving his wife and children for once without complaining. Dirk Nowitzki joined the German squad two days ahead of schedule.
Beside the lockout, another motivating factor is next year's summer Olympics. The EuroBasket can provide a ticket to the biggest sports festival on the planet. Nowitzki says it is one of the main reasons he is coming to Lithuania and that he does not want to undercut his teammates' chances of qualifying for London.
It's hard to deny that the MVP of last year's NBA Finals, four All-Stars and a couple dozen other NBA players will raise the bar. And their appearance this time is even creating a buzz in the U.S. about the tournament.
Given the current situation, "we're about to see our first legitimate basketball competition involving NBA players since the Finals ended," writes Joel Brigham on his Hoopsworld blog. "Drink them up while they're here. There's going to be plenty of NBA guys involved to keep us entertained."