- Ric Bucher, NBA Reporter, ESPN The Magazine Senior Writer
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NBA Players Association executive director Billy Hunter sent a memo to all players Tuesday saying he supports all members of the union in their attempts to play elsewhere.
In a memo sent to players on Tuesday night and obtained by ESPN on Wednesday, the union leader said the NBPA supports all players "who are taking steps to continue to earn a living, stay in peak competitive shape, and play the game that we love while the unfortunate league-imposed lockout is in place."
"This lockout is intended to economically pressure our players to agree to an unfavorable collective bargaining agreement," Hunter wrote. "It is important for the owners to understand that there may be significant consequences to their decision to put their own players in these difficult economic circumstances.
"If the owners will not give our players a forum in which to play basketball here in the United States, they risk losing the greatest players in the world to the international basketball federations that are more than willing to employ them."
Talks between the NBA and the union broke down June 30, and the owners decided to impose the league's first lockout since the 1998-99 season was shortened to 50 games. Both sides say there are significant differences between their proposals, raising the possibility that all or part of next season could be canceled.
The chasm between the league and union has led some players to consider other options.
The agent for Deron Williams told ESPN on July 7 that the New Jersey Nets guard has agreed to play for the Turkish team Besiktas if the lockout lingers into the fall. Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Amare Stoudemire of the New York Knicks have also mentioned the possibility of playing overseas if the NBA lockout drags on.
Hunter specifically acknowledged and saluted Williams in the memo.
"I especially commend Deron Williams for the wisdom and courage he has demonstrated these past few days," Hunter writes of Williams. "Deron explored the alternatives available to him and ultimately did not hesitate to avail himself of the best option with which he was presented, signing with Turkey's Besiktas.
"Following the lead of our other All-Star players who have come to the bargaining table and supported the union's efforts since negotiations began, and the many All-Stars who have come before them that sacrificed so that we may prosper today, Deron again demonstrates that NBA players will not be intimidated by the league's hard-line tactics."
The New York Times was the first to report on the union memo.
The memo also assures players that the union does not expect the NBA or FIBA to prohibit them from playing internationally. It instructs them to negotiate an "out-clause allowing you to honor your NBA contract once the lockout ends."
FIBA, however, will not decide until next week at the earliest whether to issue Williams a letter of clearance, a source told ESPN.com's Chris Sheridan. There are still unresolved legal issues regarding players with NBA contracts signing overseas during the lockout, a second source told Sheridan.
Hunter's memo recommends that a player and his agent secure coverage guarding against "any injury or unforeseen circumstances."
Hunter concludes with pledges to continue negotiations with the NBA and work with the National Labor Relations Board to protect the players' rights.
Hunter's memo ends with: "Stand together, and stay strong."
Ric Bucher covers the NBA for ESPN The Magazine. Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.
4hSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann