U.S. Players Overseas
Look for the Union Label
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, alarms were raised among the more than 3,000 Americans who play for pro basketball clubs around the world. Some agents said their clients have been especially afraid of traveling to Europe, where an estimated 2,000 U.S. players are employed. "If some players are fearful, it's because they've never played in Europe," says David Rivers, the Notre Dame star of the mid-1980s who routinely earned $1 million a season as the leading point guard on the Continent over the past decade. Because most teams in Europe are limited to one or two Americans, Rivers says, the clubs don't make likely targets for attacks.
The real concern for a U.S. player, Rivers says, "is whether his club is treating him properly. Is the team paying him on time, or paying him at all? Is the player receiving health coverage? Has the team given him an apartment with no heat or hot water?"
To deal with these worries, Rivers opened the American International Players Association last June. He has signed up nearly 100 dues-paying members playing in more than a dozen countries. Rivers, who's running the AIPA out of his house in Orlando, hopes to unify U.S. players, coaches and agents and use that leverage to improve the standards of pro basketball overseas.
Such a far-flung endeavor could never succeed without the Internet. The AIPA website (www.aipassociation.com) provides members with, among other things, details on the vagaries of foreign contracts, advice on what steps to take if a club refuses to pay salaries (as well as a list of clubs that are known to renege on contracts) and health-insurance information for players and their families.
"The biggest problem for the American player is that there's so little information," says Rivers, 36, who played for Olympiakos of Greece last year and hopes to compete again in Europe sometime this season. "If our players came together as a group, we could form one of the largest sports entities in the world."