While most NBA players wait and wonder whether there will be a season, Jordan Farmar
has emerged as a star in Israel.
Farmar, a 6-foot-2 guard with the New Jersey Nets, is one of a handful of National Basketball Association players who have opted to play in Europe during the ongoing lockout that threatens the entire 2011-2012 season.
"I really just wanted to make the most out of a tough situation that we are going through in the States and enjoy this process," Farmar, who is playing point guard for Maccabi Tel Aviv, said in an interview with Reuters.
"I wanted to play at a high level and play somewhere where they value winning."
As a player representative for the Nets, Farmar keeps on top of the labor situation and fully supports the decision of the players' union, which last week rejected a proposal from the owners calling for a 50-50 split of basketball related income that would have provided for a 72-game season to start in mid-December.
"I understand what we are going through and the points we are fighting for," Farmar said. "The ground we made over the past labor negotiations, to give them back now is a tough thing to swallow."
"A lot of guys want to be out there playing and I am one of them. I am in a different situation because I have a comfortable situation here, although there is still nothing like having a job that you are familiar with."
Monetarily, most players should be able to withstand losing paychecks if the season is lost since they have been gearing up for a long labor battle and were advised to save money and plan ahead, said Farmar, who was to earn $4 million this season with the Nets but now makes about $35,000 a month in Tel Aviv.
"Guys were really ready for this battle," he said, expressing an understanding of frustration on behalf of basketball fans. "It's really tough to almost neglect them in the process but it's also important that when we do get up and running that we play under fair circumstances."
Farmar is a native of Los Angeles and starred for UCLA – leading the Bruins to the national championship game in 2006 – before becoming an off-the-bench player for the Los Angeles Lakers for four seasons, two of which the Lakers won the NBA title.
He moved to the Nets for the 2010-2011 season and enjoyed his best career numbers, averaging 9.6 points and five rebounds a game.
In four games so far in the Euroleague, Farmar is averaging 15.5 points and four rebounds to lead Tel Aviv to a 3-1 start.
He had a season-high 27 points earlier in November in an 88-82 hard-fought win against Real Madrid that earned him Euroleague Week Three MVP honors.
"I am becoming a better basketball player," said Farmar, who will turn 25 later this month.
"More than anything, I am using my brain to play basketball and that's the biggest weapon I have. The reason why I left the Lakers was to get an opportunity to play more and do more on the floor and I am given the same opportunity here."
Maccabi Tel Aviv – which lost in the Euroleague finals last season and is consistently a top team in Europe – was initially opposed to taking on any NBA players since it could disrupt the team's chemistry.
But coach David Blatt said he was swayed by the fact Farmar is Jewish, has family in Israel and wanted to play for Tel Aviv – a team he grew up rooting for and watching when he was younger while visiting family.
The team, Farmar's first choice, also was desperate for a player able to handle multiple guard positions.
"Jordan has answered the bell in all areas," Blatt said. "If he does have to go back (to the NBA once play resumes) it will of course be tough and leave a very serious hole in the team both in terms of the professional side and chemistry."
Blatt said that even if the NBA season is scrapped, he will not take on any other NBA players.
However, Omri Casspi
– an Israeli who played for the team before moving to the NBA where he played the last two seasons for the Sacramento Kings before being traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers – would return.
The European leagues are filled with American players, mainly those who could not make it in the NBA after college.
But the lockout has boosted those ranks for now. They include Farmar's Nets teammates Deron Williams and Sasha Vujacic who are in Turkey, Utah's Andrei Kirilenko in Russia, Dallas' Rudy Fernandez and Golden State's Reggie Williams in Spain and San Antonio's Tony Parker, who is back in France.
"Guys over here are really skilled and very good basketball players. They are tough and physical and it's a high level of basketball," Farmar said, citing the success of Parker, Pau Gasol and Dirk Nowitzki in the NBA. "The skill level is very close outside of the star (NBA) players."
Europe is not for everyone, though.
Israel's Bnei Hasharon signed the Kings' J.J. Hickson to replace the injured Trevor Booker of the Washington Wizards, but he played one game before heading back home. Israeli media reported Hickson was homesick.
Once NBA play resumes, Farmar sees an improved Nets team after struggling in recent seasons. He sees the new arena being built in Brooklyn as a new beginning that would lure free agents.
"I don't see (the Nets) struggling for too much longer. They are headed in the right direction and Avery Johnson is a hell of a coach," he said. "I have a lot of confidence the Nets will be very good in the future."