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NBA players could have positive impact on game in Japan

by Ed Odeven

The NBA’s ongoing woes could trigger the entire cancellation of the 2011-12 season. And if that happens, nobody would be surprised.

Millionaire players and billionaire owners have had months to work out their differences, and the promise of compromise and a new collective bargaining agreement appear about as likely as spotting a rainbow and Miss Universe every day for three straight weeks.

This, believe it or not, leaves a golden opportunity for an increased importance and relevance for the bj-league here and abroad. The league, despite its reputation for financial limitations, could open its arms for NBA players and give them a chance to play here. Aggressive marketing and sponsorship deals could be worked out if the league office can work quickly and efficiently with power brokers.

Already, around the globe there’s been an exodus of NBA players, or those with expired contracts. Hoopshype.com has kept a close eye on the situation, noting that 54 have finalized deals with overseas teams, as of Tuesday. This list features teams in more than 15 countries, including China, but not Japan.

One NBA head coach, reached by The Japan Times who spoke on the condition of anonymity during the lockout because he’s prohibited from commenting publicly, said the upcoming bj-league season is a solid option for his players.

“Playing there would be a great idea as long as he has an NBA out (clause) in the contract,” the coach said, pointing out that an NBA contract would be the player’s first priority once a new labor deal is completed. “It would be good for the league and good for the players because they could practice and play. (It’s) a great way to stay in shape by playing in games.”

And what about Jeremy Tyler?

The Golden State Warriors forward endured longtime NBA bench boss Bob Hill’s grueling workouts last season, beginning with training camp in suburban Dallas before the Tokyo Apache season began. Now, Tyler is able to work out on his own, participate in various pickup games or tournaments, but the daily grind of being on a team is not something he’s dealing with right now.

For a 20-year-old rookie, it’s best to play and get in as many games as possible. And that’s why every team in the bj-league should reach out to Tyler and offer him a spot on its roster for now. He’s the bj-league’s biggest success story, the first player in league history to be drafted, and would be welcomed with open arms at any bj-league arena.

The league could even pull Tyler’s name and team assignment out of a hat. Broadcast the event on BJTV and YouTube. Have a pretty girl conduct the draw and, voila, that’s his assignment. The league office could pay 1/20th of Tyler’s salary, and each of the 19 teams could pitch in and pay the rest. It could be that simple.

For as many games as Tyler would be back in Japan, it would be a boon for the sport, and a thrill for the rest of the league’s players to compete against him — again or for the first time. Knowing that he’ll return to the Golden State Warriors after this lockout insanity, Tyler would generate a positive buzz for a league and a sport that needs it here in Japan.

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On a related note, Hoop Scoop contacted former Tokyo Apache coach Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, now on a well-deserved break after coaching the Los Angeles Sparks during the WNBA season, and asked him the following: What are the odds that Kobe, his son and the Lakers superstar, would be playing in Italy this season?

After all, the elder Bryant knows all about the fans’ admiration and support of basketball in Italy. He was a star there during Kobe’s formative years.

Joe Bryant responded by saying, “Good question. We all hope that we will have an NBA season. But Italy is a second home for the Bryant family.”

It seems to me if Kobe has asked for his father’s advice the previous sentence would service as a reminder that a homecoming can be a special thing.

And who says Kobe can only have one hometown team?

He’ll always be known for his extraordinary career with the Lakers. But a short stint in Italy with Virtus Bologna may be a happy chapter — one game, one month, one season — in his illustrious career.