It seemed like the perfect opportunity: An NBA player out of work because of the league's labor impasse is offered a lucrative deal to play in a culturally rich European city. Deron Williams went for it gladly. Last week the locked-out Nets guard agreed to a one-year contract with the Istanbul-based Turkish club Beşiktaş. Williams's deal is a sweet one: He will earn approximately $200,000 per month and has an opt-out that will allow him to return to the NBA once the lockout is lifted.
Will other big names follow Williams's lead? A corporate sponsor is covering his contract, just one example of the deep pockets that, according to a Western Conference executive, "are all over Europe." Beşiktaş coach Ergin Ataman says he would like to add Kobe Bryant to the backcourt. (Bryant, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James have expressed interest in playing overseas in the past.) There are risks—NBA contracts don't insure against injuries suffered in another league, and the Nets could attempt to void the final two years and $34 million that Williams is due if he is hurt—and the salaries are a fraction of what a top-tier player makes. But signing abroad allows a player to pocket a little cash playing in competitive leagues while growing his global brand. Consider: Last December, Bryant signed a two-year endorsement deal with Turkish Airlines.
It could help at the negotiating table too. Labor talks are stalled (as of Monday no bargaining sessions were scheduled) and hard-line owners believe that once players start missing paychecks, they will cave on such key issues as a hard cap and the elimination of guaranteed contracts. If enough players are earning euros (or yuans, or rubles) to stay solvent—Atlanta's Zaza Pachulia, Toronto's Sonny Weems and Philadelphia's Darius Songaila have also agreed to overseas deals—it could create room for compromise. If not, well, there's always the Eurocup.