NEW YORK -- David Stern thinks the only people NBA players are threatening by going overseas is themselves.
The NBA Commissioner dismissed the notion that it's a bargaining tactic, warning it could divide the union and possibly jeopardize players' contracts if they were to be seriously injured.
Locked out by the league, numerous players have said they would consider playing overseas. Yet Stern tells The Associated Press there are "maybe 10, 15, even 20 players who might, might be able to secure employment, but nothing approaching the NBA system."
"I think if anything, I think there's simply no way that the players collectively can generate more than a couple of hundred million dollars and we have a system that has been delivering $2 billion to them," Stern said Tuesday in a phone interview.
"And in fact it threatens to do two things. It threatens to split the union because only the high-paying stars, only the superstars, will be able to get any significant number of dollars, and those dollars are so small compared to what they're leaving on the table in the U.S. that it just means they're going to be making a few more dollars than the non-superstars, and I think it's going to split the union. So I'm not a big fan of it, but not because it's a threat, but because it subjects our players to unnecessary risk and treats them disparately."
The union has encouraged players to find work rather than give in to the owners' economic demands, with the hope that owners would offer better proposals if they see their players have other options. Players Association executive director Billy Hunter recently sent a memo to all players endorsing contracts such as the one Nets All-Star Deron Williams agreed to with Besiktas of Turkey.
But Williams was set to earn more than $16 million next season in the NBA. He will receive at most only a few million in Europe, so owners may not rush back to the table to pay him substantially more.
"Actually, we want to say, 'We want to give you 16. We don't want you to take 3. But if you want to play for 3 rather than 16, OK,' " Stern said. "And to the extent that the union has glamorized it at this point, I think, I'm not sure that's a great idea for its players."
The NBA, union, and FIBA, basketball's governing body that has to approve deals for players under NBA contract, have all said players are allowed to go but assume the risk if they are injured. Stern wouldn't rule out that teams could void the contract of a player if he is seriously hurt.
"I think that if a player is not able to present themselves to perform under his contract, then he's going to have a difficult time collecting on his contract," Stern said.
Williams is the only superstar with an overseas deal thus far, though some lesser players have one. Many elite players say they are keeping it as an option.
Stern dismissed Europe as a threat in 2008 after Josh Childress signed in Greece and other players said they would consider it for the massive amounts that European teams were reported to have considered paying them. He said at the time that type of money just wasn't available there.
"And things have gotten much worse," Stern said.
Owners and players remain far apart, trading insults and lawsuits while raising fears of a lengthy lockout that would reduce or even cancel entirely the 2011-12 season. That would make playing overseas more attractive for players, so they are collecting a paycheck, even a much smaller one.
But Stern wants them to remember that playing in Europe or Asia is different than the trips they've been accustomed to while playing in the NBA, which includes charter planes, fancy hotels and other luxuries.
"We take very good care of our players because we think they deserve it and we appreciate them," Stern said. "Not sure they're going to get the same level of treatment just as another player on a team fighting for a victory in, you name it, wherever it may happen to be."