Among the flood of reported signings, flirtations, explorations, and interest between overseas clubs and NBA players, DeJuan Blair’s name and news don’t create much of a ripple. He’s no Deron Williams, after all; Blair isn’t even a steady NBA regular at this point in his career, having squandered some of the opportunity given him as a member of San Antonio’s limited frontcourt. Yet thanks to Blair’s injury history, the news that he may play professionally in Russia (per Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski) has raised a few eyebrows and inspired the internet peanut gallery to take their best collective shot.
The primary risk of international basketball to NBA players is the potential for injury involved. Strange things happen on a basketball court; it’s honestly amazing that serious injuries don’t occur more often with all of the leaping into occupied space that goes on in a competitive game between hyper athletic ballplayers, but those tweaks, sprains, strains, and breaks that do happen are costly nonetheless. Not only does Blair run the risk of a freak injury by playing in Russia, but also the natural wear and tear that comes from a player with no ACLs hitting the non-NBA hardwood. The domestic logic could deem Blair insane; he’s labeled as being injury-prone as it is, and yet he’s likely chosen to spend his time away from the league playing for a team that is not his own while risking serious injury in the process.
Yet injury is an odd reason for Blair or any other player to forgo the chance to play elsewhere during the lockout. The risk of injury/lack of insurance argument can logically apply to NBAers suiting up for their national teams during a typical off-season, but this summer (and now fall) is anything but typical. The void left from a lack of team workouts, training camp, and preseason ball gives players even more incentive to ready their skills in preparation for an NBA campaign that may or may not come. There is no existing schedule or guide for players to ready their bodies for the regular season; negotiations could take a turn on a moment’s notice, and it will be up to Blair and all of his peers to be ready to play professional basketball again, be it in November, in January, or worse.
This decision, should Blair make it, would be a means to that end. Plus, lest we forget, the schedules of foreign leagues aren’t all that different from the NBA’s. Blair will be playing and training, but only in the lack of the playing and training he’d be doing with the Spurs as part of his typical NBA regimen. He — and every other NBA player interested in alternative lockout employment — would be drilling, lifting, or scrimmaging, and all it would take would be the pop of a medicine ball, an awkward fall, or a hard collision to send a training camper to the training room. Basketball is not without its risks, regardless of whether it’s being played in a foreign land or an NBA team’s practice facility. The fact that such an injury would otherwise happen under the watch of an NBA team is functionally irrelevant.
NBA fans have been conditioned to look at extracurricular basketball as an additional risk for NBA players, but let this serve as a reminder that on a normal schedule, American pro ballers would still be putting in work and minutes while risking injury. There’s nothing terribly unique about the risk that Blair runs, while the payoff is rather straightforward. Maintaining good health is crucial for Blair, but so is development, and doesn’t logging floor time — even in another country — make quite a bit of sense at this stage in his career? Particularly when the lockout is depriving him of putting in team-driven developmental time on his home floor?