Kobe Bryant plays basketball with a fan at a basketball clinic in Changsha in south China's Hunan province earlier this month. (Photo: AP Photo)
If NBA stars are serious about playing overseas, basketball's governing body says they will be welcomed.
Just as long as they promise to leave once the lockout ends.
The International Basketball Federation (FIBA) announced Friday it would clear NBA players under contract to play in its leagues during the work stoppage, provided the deals they sign come with opt-out clauses.
In a ruling that paves the way for players to earn a paycheck, FIBA agreed with NBA and players' association officials that players are free to sign anywhere but do so at their own risk of injury.
"As the world governing body for basketball, we strongly hope that the labor dispute will be resolved as soon as possible, and that the NBA season is able to begin as scheduled," secretary general Patrick Baumann said in a statement.
"In view of our role to promote basketball worldwide, we support any player wishing to play the game, wherever and whenever. We do so while obviously taking the interests, rights and obligations of all parties into account."
Playing overseas has emerged as an option for NBA players during a work stoppage that threatens to last months and could even wipe out the entire season. Nets All-Star Deron Williams has a deal with Turkish club Besiktas — which is also courting Kobe Bryant — and most top players said they would consider playing overseas.
Union executive director Billy Hunter has endorsed the idea, with players believing it will pressure owners at the bargaining table if they see their players have options elsewhere, and FIBA may have been faced with a legal challenge had it denied the players.
"Our players are gratified by today's announcement by FIBA, although it comes as no surprise," Hunter said in a statement. "We have consistently advised our members that in the event of a lockout they would have the right to be compensated for playing basketball irrespective of whether they were under contract to an NBA team or not. We have encouraged all of our players to pursue such opportunities and will continue to do so."
If a player under NBA contract agrees to a deal in a FIBA-affiliated league, he first must be cleared to go by the NBA. The league will allow partial clearance, meaning it must be guaranteed the player returns to his NBA team once a new collective bargaining agreement is reached. FIBA will then give its approval once the player has signed a declaration stating he will do so.
There is still plenty of doubt that top players will head to Europe or Asia. All-Star-caliber players may not find enough money to make it worthwhile, and numerous players who have signed overseas have stories of missed or late payments from their teams there. Also, their NBA teams could void their contracts if they are significantly injured playing in another league.
Still, scoring champion Kevin Durant of Oklahoma City said Thursday he was "about 50-50" on the idea, while Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul both said they would consider China during a promotional tour in Hong Kong this week.
FIBA also expressed its pleasure that so many players are willing to play this summer despite the risks. Argentina Basketball Federation president German Vaccaro told FIBA.com that it had secured insurance Thursday, allowing Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola and its other top players to take part in the FIBA Americas tournament it is hosting.
France and Russia also have lined up arrangements to have their NBA players take part in Europe's qualifying tournament for the 2012 Olympics.
"We are delighted to see that, in spite of widespread doubts related to the lockout, national teams competing in this summer's Olympic qualifiers will be able to count on the participation of most of their NBA stars," Baumann said.