Sources: NBA stars plan exhibition tour
While NBA commissioner David Stern and players' union executive Billy Hunter meet with a federal mediator in hopes of saving the NBA season, the league's top players are finalizing plans for a two-week exhibition tour during what would have been the first two weeks of the regular season, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.
While the final details are still being worked out, more than a dozen of the league's best players are working to join forces on what would be a two-week, six-game, four-continent blockbuster tour, sources said.
In a trip that could resemble Team USA's takeover of the world stage at the 2008 Beijing Games, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Amare Stoudemire, Chris Bosh, Rajon Rondo, Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook, Carlos Boozer, Paul Pierce and Kevin Love are among the players expected to participate. Kevin Durant and Kevin Garnett, among a few others, are also contemplating joining the tour.
Tyson Chandler also has agreed to participate in the tour, a source close to Chandler told ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher.
Griffin's availability may be in question, however, as he was forced to pull out of a charity exhibition Sunday in Oklahoma City because of a cut on his right foot.
Griffin's agent, Sam Goldfeder, said Wednesday that Griffin was hurt while swimming in the ocean but that it's a minor injury and he should be back on the court soon.
Atlanta business mogul Calvin Darden has been putting the tour together with the players' agents for nearly three months. He has already obtained signed contracts from Bryant, Wade, Bosh, Griffin, Rondo and Pierce. Sources say he's hoping to complete the rest of the agreements, along with insurance requirements, over the next few days.
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Even so, sources warned that the tour has not yet been finalized and there's still a chance it could unravel.
The tour, scheduled to begin Oct. 30 and end Nov. 9, will make stops in Puerto Rico, London, Macau, and Australia. Each game will be staged in an arena that holds at least 15,000 fans. Two games each will be played at sites in London and Australia.
Darden is hoping to broadcast the games in as many international markets as possible and perhaps in the United States as well.
The players will be paid, receiving salaries ranging from six figures up to $1 million, sources said. Some of the money generated by the tour will be donated to charity.
The tour would be the biggest lockout event NBA players have ever staged. While locked out in 1998, several stars played an exhibition game in Atlantic City. Current players have staged several charity games over the past month, most notably the "The South Florida All-Star Classic" featuring James and Wade, played in Miami last Saturday.
Beyond the salaries the players will receive and the overseas venues, this tour is different in that the rosters will be comprised completely of All-Star caliber players.
One of the few superstars who is not expected to participate is Dwight Howard, who turned down a chance to play in order to rest from a taxing overseas trip he recently took that included visits to 15 countries.
Darden, the former senior vice president of U.S. operations for UPS, sits on the boards of Target, Coca-Cola and Cardinal Health. He is also the chairman of his own real estate development company, The Darden Development Group. In 2002, Fortune magazine named Darden the eighth-highest ranking black executive in America.
While Darden's business record is impressive, his family has endured controversy. His son, Cal Darden Jr., recently spent nearly four years in prison after pleading guilty to five counts of grand larceny and scheme to defraud.
The 36-year-old Darden Jr., once a high-rolling stockbroker on Wall Street, was convicted of defrauding 11 victims of roughly $7 million. In addition to stealing money from securities firms, he was convicted of bilking $300,000 from former NBA star Latrell Sprewell and $950,000 from rap star Nelly.
Though Darden Jr. will have no more than a minor role in the tour, several sources said Darden Sr. has been very open with the involved parties about his son's legal issues and that they do not foresee them causing a problem. Darden Jr.'s main role has been putting together the charitable component of the tour.
Chris Broussard is a senior NBA writer for ESPN The Magazine. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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