What if China is no option at all?

August, 2, 2011
8/02/11
4:11
AM ET
Stein By Marc Stein
ESPN.com
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Seriously?

The Chinese Basketball Association might institute a rule that prevents its teams from including a back-to-America clause in any contract with locked-out NBA players?

Seriously.

Sources with knowledge of the CBA’s inner workings have confirmed a Sina Sports report over the weekend that the Chinese league is giving strong consideration to implementing a rule that would prevent the likes of Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and the slender lad who rung up 66 points at Rucker Park on Monday night from playing in China during an extended work stoppage.

FIBA, remember, announced Friday that any contracted NBA player who wants to go abroad during the lockout has to make a signed declaration to return to the NBA as soon as the lockout ends. Yet if Chinese clubs are ordered by government officials to avoid signing anyone from the NBA who could be summoned back to the States at any time, they realistically won’t be able to land a single NBAer of substance for the start of their season in January.

Which means what is widely considered to be the most attractive overseas option for various All-Stars -- as Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul recently mentioned on a promotional tour of Hong Kong -- might ultimately prove to be no option at all.

I’m sure you’re asking the same question as me: Would the Chinese basketball authorities, in an NBA-crazed country, really enact a measure this strict and thus forfeit the opportunity, however brief, to have Kobe or Dwight or Kevin Durant playing in their league?

The answer I got from a certifiable CBA expert: Yes.

An emphatic yes.

The source was adamant that this rule has a good chance of being passed, explaining that the Chinese decision-makers -- who are government folks, not basketball people -- want no part of a “circus” that sees a wave of NBA stars swooping in during an Olympic year to divert the focus of the league away from China’s own players and then all leave at once if some of the 2011-12 NBA season is ultimately saved and the lockout is lifted.

Sina Sports quoted a source who sees it the same, saying: ”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.”

I’ve been hearing more and more that Boston’s Kevin Garnett is another star various clubs in China dream of. Word is that Nike, meanwhile, badly wants to see its star endorsers like Bryant play in China if they have to go anywhere in the winter.

But if the no opt-out rule actually does go through, after the CBA reportedly first considered banning its teams from signing anyone who finished last season on an NBA roster, barnstorming tours could prove to be the only feasible Chinese option available to the NBA’s biggest names.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

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