Hoops overseas? For women, it's necessary

Cappie Pondexter plays for the New York Liberty.

Cappie Pondexter plays for the New York Liberty. (Credit: Newsday/Craig Ruttle)

Plenette Pierson laughs when she hears rumors about NBA stars threatening to take their games overseas during the lockout. For WNBA players such as Pierson, it's worthy of a shrug.

"Of course we laugh," said Pierson, a Liberty forward in the summer but a star in Turkey the rest of the year. "It's our life -- that's what we do for a living. We would love to swap places and play the whole year here and just have the summer to do whatever we want. But this is the nature of our business."

If NBA players have any questions about what it's like playing in foreign countries, they need only ask their female counterparts who make it an annual aspect of their career. WNBA players have long tapped playing in Europe or Asia in the offseason as a necessary (if not always beloved) reality.

Nets guard Deron Williams' recent decision to sign with Turkey stirred the NBA. Orlando center Dwight Howard told the Associated Press this week that he's seriously considering playing in Europe or China if the NBA lockout continues. Moves like these in the WNBA are commonplace.

In 2010-11, 92 WNBA players -- almost 70 percent of the league -- competed overseas. A scan of the Liberty locker room reveals eight players with international experience ranging from Spain to Slovakia.

The players will tell you it's not always easy. It's not always fun. And, compared to the expected salaries reported to be luring the men, money alone is not as great an incentive.

"It's not the same in my eyes at all," said Liberty center and Bronx native Kia Vaughn, who played in Israel last winter. "You ask, 'What are you going over there for? More money? Or is it really for love of basketball?' Everyone has their own reasons."

WNBA salaries range from $36,570 to $101,000, according to the league's collective bargaining agreement, but players can earn much more from overseas clubs. And because the WNBA season is so short -- 34 games in 16 weeks, plus playoffs -- they want somewhere to play. The women's Euroleague, which is the league most players join, runs from October to April, including playoffs.

"We only play three months here, so we have to go over there for money," Vaughn said. "And also we love playing basketball, that's why we do it. A lot of us can have jobs here but we would rather play basketball."

Williams has already signed a contract to play in Turkey - for a reported $5 million - if the NBA lockout continues into the season. Stars such as Kobe Bryant, Amare Stoudemire, Kevin Durant and Dwayne Wade have also hinted they'd consider following suit.

NBA players may be using the rumors as leverage at the bargaining table and a threat to owners who don't want to see them competing under different coaches in different countries. But using Europe as a form of last resort is humorous to those who don't have such options.

"They're all grown men, get over it," Pierson said, with a wink.

Not that it's so easy to play over there. Vaughn said she struggled with everything from language to time adjustments, and longed for family and friends. Pierson had issues with the severe winters when she played in Moscow.

If guys do go, Liberty guard Cappie Pondexter has some advice.

"Just take it all in," said Pondexter, a fixture for UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia since 2007. "Whatever the case is, I think you just need to embrace the culture and have fun. At the end of the day, we're all still blessed to play a sport."

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