Since the NBA lockout started on July 1st, a host of NBA superstars have been considering China as a potential landing spot if the work stoppage drags on past the start of the season. If only China was considering NBA players.
Earlier this afternoon, Sina Sports, quoting an anonymous figure connected to the CBA, reported that the Chinese Basketball Association is planning to institute two special new rules for next season in response to the ever-growing list of NBA players who have declared interest towards playing in China: First, teams will not be allowed to include an out-clause into any contract with an active NBA player and second, that each team will be allowed to sign only one active NBA player.
Said the anonymous source, “The CBA isn’t the NBA’s backyard. If we didn’t make a rule about players playing here temporarily, then they’d all just leave in the middle of the season. That would affect our season greatly.”
As of yet, the CBA has not responded to the story. Any official announcement over new CBA rules is unlikely to come before the league’s committee convenes for a policy meeting in August.
If the CBA indeed goes ahead with the new rules, then its unlikely that any big stars will come here to play next season. Up to this point, all player interest has been based around signing an out-clause, a stipulation which would allow a player to return immediately to the NBA whenever the lockout ends. Any rule forcing an active NBA player to play a full year in China would essentially kill all interest from players currently under contract.
The CBA’s reasoning behind such a rule serves as a stark reminder as to how the Chinese government views basketball within the national political framework. Whereas the NBA operates in the U.S. as an independent business, the CBA is run by the government and thus has an agenda based on other things than profitability. At the top of that agenda for the Chinese is the long-term development of basketball in China and the success of the Chinese national team. Having a national team that can compete against the best the world has to offer serves as a way for China to gain international glory while also boosting nationalism within its own borders. The relationship between raising China’s international athletic reputation and promoting national pride is a vital interest for the Chinese government, who put a strong emphasis on nationalism as a way to maintain stability.
So although welcoming an NBA superstar to China sounds good on the surface, both for NBA-crazed fans and teams’ bottom line, the impact on the long-term development of Chinese would be minimal at best. Investing lots of money in players just to see them pack up and leave would not help the CBA’s goals in any way. If a player left mid-season to back to the States, teams would be left with few options to replace him, which is a concern that some teams also have.
“I think trying to attract superstar players to the league isn’t a good thing,” said Zhejiang Guangsha general manager, Ye Xiangyu, who was also quoted in the Sina article. “Once they leave [back to the NBA], there won’t be any players left on the market. That would affect a team across all aspects.”
Last year, Guangsha signed former NBA players Javaris Crittenton and Rafer Alston to deals, only to see the both of them leave the team within two weeks of signing.
China is a considered a top destination for players during the lockout. Though the league itself isn’t very good from a talent standpoint, the money is typically better than in Europe. But, that is a relatively small incentive for established NBA players who have contracts worth far more than any Chinese team can offer. China’s biggest advantage over the rest of the world is the size of its basketball market, which is estimated to be between 300 and 400 million people. Signing a deal in China would give a player unprecedented opportunities to sign endorsement deals and engage in other profitable commercial ventures.
But, none of that can happen without first playing in a Chinese stadium. And if this new rule indeed goes through in August, then you can count all of that still just a dream.