During the coronavirus pandemic, we have discussed that it could shorten the Washington Mystics’ championship window. Belgian forward Emma Meesseman is in her home country, effectively banned from the United States. Since March, the US has restricted non-Americans without permanent residency from entering the country if they were in the European Union’s Schengen Area within 15 days of arrival to the country, with some limited exceptions.
Unless she wants to travel to one of a few countries not subject to the American travel ban first, (assuming that country also doesn’t ban Europeans) and go through multiple quarantines in the process, Meesseman can’t play for the Mystics this summer if there is a 2020 WNBA season. But she isn’t the subject of this piece. And she is also far from the only Washington basketball player who could be in a similar situation in the not-too-distant future.
At some point, every non-American NBA player will have to make a tough decision on something that normally shouldn’t be. Should he go back to his home country during the offseason? If he goes home, he could have a hard time getting back to the US before next season, whenever that happens. Assuming travel bans remain in place beyond 2020, it’s also conceivable some NBA players may not want to return to the US in light of current events.
The Wizards have six non-American players on the 2019-20 roster: Rui Hachimura (Japan), Davis Bertans (Latvia), Anzejs Pasecniks (Latvia), Ian Mahinmi (France), Moritz Wagner (Germany) and Issac Bonga (Germany). With the exception of Hachimura, all are from European Union countries located in the Schengen Area, like Belgium.
Pasecniks, Wagner and Bonga are under contract for the 2020-21 NBA season, so that’s reason for them to come back, even if they face multiple quarantines from the US and a third country. But the pandemic situation here is worse than in Latvia or Germany. That could give them pause before deciding on whether to continue playing in America. This virus has changed life as we know it.
In Mahinmi’s case, he enters free agency this offseason. But if he doesn’t have permanent residency, Mahinmi won’t be banned from re-entering the US because his wife, Alexis is American. Assuming Mahinmi wants to continue his basketball career in the states, he’ll be alright.
In Hachimura’s case, Japan is currently not subject to a travel ban — something that could change because cases there rose quickly in late April.
Finally, there’s Bertans. He’s entering free agency, but as far as I know, he isn’t married to an American and may not have permanent residency. Given the pandemic, it wouldn’t be far-fetched for Bertans to consider European teams where he could spend a year and get paid handsomely rather than signing with the Wizards or any NBA team. In fact, this could be a route chosen by European players who are free agents.
To be clear, the NBA isn’t likely to see a mass exodus of non-American players to teams in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague or the 7Days EuroCup. I don’t see someone like Giannis Antetokounmpo bolting the Milwaukee Bucks for Olympiacos in Greece or see Luka Doncic spurn the Dallas Mavericks for a return to Real Madrid’s basketball team in Spain.
However, rotation and starter-level players like Bertans could be bigger stars on the European stage. And for European free agents in Bertans’ situation, they would play in an area where they won’t face travel bans and not sacrifice earnings, or at least too much of them anyway. In most years and circumstances, I would find the prospect of someone like Bertans leaving the NBA for Europe unthinkable unless he was a borderline player. Today, I’m not so sure.
Should the Wizards and all NBA teams brace for the possibility of international players, especially Europeans going home during the offseason and staying in their home countries next season due to the coronavirus and/or possible travel bans? Let us know in the comments below.