With its professional league in the third month of a work stoppage or lockout, and a new collective bargain agreement between the team owners and players union apparently still far from being struck, a number of active players from the U.S. National Basketball Association (NBA) have decided to flex their muscles and hook up with their national teams in the various regional qualifying tournaments that will help determine the 12-nation cast to the men’s basketball competitions in next year’s London Olympics.
Beware, however. With the NBA in a lockout since July 1, these players are competing in the FIBA-sanctioned tournaments without any protection from injuries since they don’t own any insurance policy.
In case a player is injured during the summer games, his NBA employer has the right to rescind his contract once the labor dispute is over.
Scores of active NBA players – those who suited up in the American pro circuit during the 2010-11 wars or currently own “live” contracts with their teams – are taking part in Olympic zone qualifiers.
In the Tournament of Americas in Argentina are defending champion Brazil’s Tiago Splitter (San Antonio Spurs), Puerto Rico’s Carlos Arroyo (split time with the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics last season) and Jose Juan Barea (reigning NBA titlist Dallas Mavericks), the Dominican Republic’s Al Horford (Atlanta Hawks), Charlie Villanueva (Detroit Pistons) and Francisco Garcia (Sacramento Kings), Canada’s Joel Anthony (Miami Heat), Venezuela’s Greivis Vasquez (Memphis Grizzlies), and host Argentina’s Manu Ginobili (Spurs), Andres Nocioni (Philadelphia 76ers), Luis Scola (Houston Rockets), Carlos Delfino (Milwaukee Bucks) and Fabricio Oberto (Portland Trail Blazers).
The star-studded Argentines are the slight favorites to romp away with the TOA championship. The gold and silver medalists automatically earn tickets to the London Games next year.
The Buenos Aires-born Scola is Argentina’s all-time scoring leader in international competitions. The 6-9 power forward was the Most Valuable Player in the FIBA Americas tournaments in 2007 and 2009 and ranked No. 1 in the scoring charts during the 2010 World Basketball Championship in Turkey.
More current NBA stars are showing their wares in EuroBasket, or the FIBA Europe qualifying tournament to the 2012 London Olympiad.
Favored to retain its crown is Spain, which clinched its first-ever EuroBasket title two years ago in Poland after beating Serbia in the finals behind tournament MVP Pau Gasol of the Los Angeles Lakers.
The first Spanish player ever to snare an NBA title with a pair of championships with the Lakers in 2009 and 2010, the 7-foot, 31-year-old Gasol is back with the national team.
Pau is surrounded by several “active” NBA players as well, led by his younger brother, 7-1, 26-year-old Marc Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies; guard Jose Manuel Calderon of the Toronto Raptors, forward Rudy Fernandez of the defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks (he was obtained in a trade with Portland last June); and forward-center Serge Ibaka of the Oklahoma City Thunder (originally a native of the Republic of Congo).
Another player on the Spanish roster with past NBA experience is guard Juan Carlos Navarro, who played for the Grizzlies during the 2007-08 wars. Add to the mix is flamboyant 6-4 playmaker Ricky Rubio, the No. 5 selection overall in the 2009 NBA draft who will finally join the Minnesota Timberwolves in October, granting the lockout is over by the time.
Other current NBAers plying their trade in the EuroBasket competitions include: France’s Tony Parker (San Antonio), Boris Diaw (Charlotte), Nicolas Batum (Portland), Joakim Noah (Chicago) and Kevin Seraphin (Washington); Germany’s Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas) and Chris Kaman (LA Clippers – he does not speak the German language, though); Belgium’s D.J. Mbenga (New Orleans – originally a native of the Republic of Congo); Georgia’s Zaza Pachulia (Atlanta); Great Britain’s Luol Deng (Chicago); Lithuania’s Darius Songaila (Philadelphia); Slovenia’s Goran Dragic (Phoenix-Houston); Latvia’s Andris Biedrins (Golden State); Italy’s Andrea Bargnani (Toronto), Marco Belinelli (New Orleans) and Danilo Gallinari (New York-Denver); Russia’s Andrei Kirilenko (Utah) and Timofey Mozgov (New York-Denver); Serbia’s Nenad Kristic (Oklahoma City-Boston); and Turkey’s Hedo Turkoglu (Phoenix-Orlando), Omer Asik (Chicago) and Ersan Ilyasova (Milwaukee).
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