For the last two months, a long list of out-of-work NBA players have been looking across the Pacific Ocean towards China as a possible lockout destination. And after two months of silence, the Chinese Basketball Association finally sent back a message to all of those players.
Look somewhere else.
According to Sina Sports, the CBA has passed two rules that will kill any chance of an NBA superstar from playing in China this season. First, any player with an active NBA contract will not be allowed to sign with a CBA team. Second, players who do sign with a CBA team will not be able to include an opt-out clause that would allow them to go back to the NBA whenever the lockout ends.
Though the league’s decision on opt-out clauses was expected, the rule barring players currently under contract comes as more of a surprise. Sources speaking to NiuBBall said that the rule had gained momentum in the last couple of weeks due to an increasing belief from the CBA that teams were not going to be fazed by the league’s ruling on out-clauses, and that they were going to to find other ways bring superstars to China.
But now, teams will have no way — legal or under-the-table — to bring a superstar to China this year. Under the new rules, the only NBA players that are eligible to sign deals are the 108 free-agents who are not currently under contract with any NBA team.
Yesterday, Sohu Sports released a story sourcing information from Shanxi Zhongyu team president Wang Xingjiang that the team had signed Kobe Bryant to a contract, and that the player had agreed to report to training camp on October 1st. A source close to the situation speaking anonymously to ESPN.com denied the story shortly after.
With no way to play in China’s domestic league, the only way for players to potentially cash in by playing basketball here will be through exhibition tours. But even those have their fair share of obstacles, as they require government approvals.
The ruling is a big hit to players. Not only are they missing out on a chance to make considerable salaries in China while simultaneously playing in the world’s second biggest basketball market, they’re also losing out on leverage in NBA lockout negotiations.