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Volume 21 No. 1
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China tour could coincide with lockout

Armed with its star-studded NBA client list, Wasserman Media Group is proposing a basketball exhibition tournament in China as the agency explores moneymaking options for its players should there be an extended lockout.

In a “China Basketball Tour” proposal summary obtained by SportsBusiness Journal, Wasserman in April began floating a plan to bring 15 to 20 of its NBA clients to China for a two- or three-week tournament if there is a work stoppage. The agency represents 45 NBA players, including this past season’s Most Valuable Player, Derrick Rose.

L.A.’s Gasol and Chicago’s Rose are among the Wasserman clients who could participate in the tour.
Wasserman has partnered with Bruce O’Neil to pitch the concept. O’Neil is founder and president of the United States Basketball Academy and has ties in China as a consultant to the Chinese Basketball Association.

Though hardly a done deal given the myriad challenges of doing business with the Chinese Basketball Association, the concept of a China tour is a direct example of ways agents are looking to counter the financial impact on players if there is a prolonged lockout. Under standard NBA player contracts, players are paid through mid-April, but many NBA players have provisions in their deals to be paid through October, regardless of a lockout, a union source said.

“It is too early to give specific details for this promotion at this time, but predicated on a lockout, we are very enthusiastic for this and other events if there is [a work stoppage],” O’Neil said, declining further comment.

The NBA’s current collective-bargaining agreement expires Thursday. At press time, no deal was close, raising the likelihood of owners voting to impose a lockout.

The tour would take place only if there is a lockout. The summary does not identify specific players committed to participate.

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Wasserman initially targeted mid-July for the tour, but organizers now are looking at potential dates in late August or early September. Scheduling is tight, though, as FIBA’s men’s basketball Asian Games are set for late September in China, and the Chinese Basketball Association starts its season in mid-October.

According to the summary, the proposed tournament aims to match NBA players represented by Wasserman with Chinese Basketball Association players to form at least four teams to play during the exhibition. Targeted locations for the tour include Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou, but no deals have been signed with any facilities.

Wasserman is proposing to sell title sponsorships to the four teams, with the rosters created through a draft of the available players. The company also plans to sell local sponsorships, along with television rights in China for the tour. NBA players represented by Wasserman would receive undisclosed appearance fees as well as money from a performance bonus pool. Sponsorship and media rights would be used to fund startup costs of the tournament, according to the summary.

Led by Arn Tellem, Wasserman’s player representation division lists such players as Atlanta’s Joe Johnson and Al Horford, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy, and Pau Gasol of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Tellem did not return calls for comment.

While the NBA operates its own NBA China entity, the proposed Wasserman-led tour would not be subject to any league oversight.

A source said NBA players would not be restricted from playing elsewhere during a work stoppage, but there are major issues for organizers, such as securing player insurance, something that one sports marketing source doing business in China said could make any exhibition cost prohibitive.

There are also complexities in doing business with the Chinese Basketball Association and various sports federations in China that would have to approve any exhibition.

“If agents want to put together a group of players and go to China, it is not ultimately their decision to just pick up and go,” said Jeff Sofka, owner of Bendigo Co., a New Jersey-based sports marketing company with business ventures in China.