Europe’s top NBA stars arrived at the 2011 EuroBasket in Lithuania with the uncertainty of an on-going labor dispute, which has been met with mixed reactions.
The biggest feelings expressed by NBA players at Europe’s elite national team event were frustration and incomprehension while others see the lockout as a chance to do much more than just continue playing the game they love and earning a paycheck.
Many of the NBA stars did not even want to talk about the labor issue, saying their focus was solely on helping their team succeed at the European Championship. And others felt sorry for the fans of the league.
“For me, it’s frustrating a little bit. It’s disappointing more than frustrating,” said France’s Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah.
“I feel that the NBA is in a place where it’s just so much fun. I love the game and it’s hard to explain to people that we’re not going to be able to play next season because of money things and business.”
Noah’s Bulls teammate Omer Asik also expressed his frustration.
“It’s frustrating because all we want is to play. We don’t want to sit at home. I hope it’s over soon,” said the Turkish big man.
Frenchman Nicolas Batum of the Portland Trail Blazers feels the same as Noah and Asik.
“Yeah it’s frustrating. We want to play in the best league in the world. I’m with the Trail Blazers first and I want to play with them. Things are like this and we have to wait and see,” said Batum.
The European silver medalist at least has one up on Noah and Asik in that he will be playing during the lockout. Batum actually has signed with French top flight club Nancy – albeit with a clause that says he must leave for the U.S. within 72 hours of the end of the lockout.
Batum is really, really looking forward to playing with Nancy as it will give him a chance to play in front of his family and friends back home.
“I wanted to stay with my family a bit. It’s been three years now I have been in the NBA now. It’s very far away from my family. I think it’s good for me to stay with all my people and my home country and see my family,” said Batum.
“I’m very excited to play in France.”
Lithuania’s Darius Songalia meanwhile sees his move from the Philadelphia 76ers to Galatasaray as a chance to actually be on the court more.
“I left because I wasn’t getting enough playing time,” said Songalia.
Serbian Nenad Krstic is another European to have landed a job with a top club on the Old Continent, playing with CSKA Moscow. And the former Oklahoma City big man said the whole NBA lockout situation is tough.
“I’m sure a lot of players just want to play basketball. But there is also the business side. It’s just tough. That’s why I decided to go to Russia. CSKA is obviously a great team, but my goal was always to play in the NBA. But who knows when it is going to finish,” said Krstic.
Many of Europe’s best players feel sorry for the NBA fans, as they are the ones who will be left out in the cold without the sport to watch.
“I feel pity for the fans because this controversy is between NBA owners and players. It affects their interests. I hope the antagonists will find the compromise as soon as possible,” said Ukrainian Cyril Fesenko of the Utah Jazz.
“This is something the fans shouldn’t have to deal with,” added Noah.
Other players refused to even address the matter in Lithuania.
“I’m just focused on the national team right now. After the national team I will talk to my agent and decide. I don’t know yet,” said Turkey’s star Enes Kanter, who would love to start his NBA career with the Utah Jazz.
“I think we just have to wait and see. For us, it’s like nothing changed. We are just focusing on EuroBasket,” said Spain’s Toronto Raptors star playmaker Jose Calderon.
The repeat European champion said one frustrating thing about continually being asked about the matter in Lithuania is that there is no news from the States.
“Hopefully we can get an agreement as soon as possible. I think both sides want an agreement, so both sides are getting closer. There’s really not that much for me to talk about. I really know the same thing that you know,” said Calderon.
His Spain teammate Marc Gasol expressed the importance of the NBA players not breaking apart.
“The most important thing is to stay together and as players try to get the best thing we can,” said the Memphis Grizzlies big man.
“It’s not easy. Nobody likes it. Everybody wants to play. But it’s better to get no deal than a bad deal for us. We all know that and we’ll see what happens.”
That is really the only thing certain – that the players will just have to wait and see what happens.