The controversy involving the Greek basketball club Olympiakos escalated Wednesday as U.S. Rep. Peter King threatened congressional involvement while asking commissioner David Stern to explain the NBA's role in the matter.
"I want to see what the response from Stern is," said King, a Republican congressman from New York, in an interview with SI.com. "If it's not a good response, I will talk to other members of Congress and see what they think about it. It could certainly lead to Congressional hearings, it could lead to legislation. I don't want to go too far, but it could make it very difficult for the NBA to engage in exhibitions with European teams or any team that is not fully protecting the rights of Americans."
U.S. courts have ordered Olympiakos to pay $1.1 million to American player Chris Morris, an NBA veteran who played for the club in 1999, and $410,000 to his American agent Tom McLaughlin. Olympiakos failed to pay in full on their contracts to Morris and McLaughlin, the courts ruled.
Other players, including former Notre Dame star and NBA veteran David Rivers, are coming forward to say that they, too, are owed money by Olympiakos.
Olympiakos recently visited the U.S. to play a pair of exhibition games against the San Antonio Spurs and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The trip was disrupted by threats that the Greek club's uniforms, airline tickets and other property would be repossessed on behalf of Morris and McLaughlin.
"This is a very, very legitimate issue," said King. "If the NBA is in any way going to acquiesce in foreign teams violating the contractual rights of American players, including former NBA players, the NBA is clearly falling down in its fiduciary responsibility, its ethical responsibility, its moral responsibility to its players. I don't know how they can defend it."
King initially expressed his concern in a letter sent to Stern Wednesday. The letter essentially suggests that the NBA is culpable through its association with Olympiakos in the recent exhibition games.
"It has recently come to my attention that a number of former NBA players who signed contracts with European teams have had terms of their contracts breached resulting in significant losses of income,'' read King's letter, which was provided to SI.com by King's office.
"It is my understanding that one of those teams, Olympiakos, is currently visiting the United States on a two-game goodwill tour, yet has outstanding U.S. federal court judgments for money owed to past players -- a number of whom came from the NBA. For international basketball to succeed, it is imperative that the interests of NBA players both past and present are protected globally.
"I would like to know specifically what the NBA is doing to ensure the fair treatment of American players overseas and why international teams that have unpaid judgments are allowed to participate in goodwill tours here in the United States? I appreciate your attention to this matter and look forward to your response."
King said the Olympiakos case was brought to his attention by his political consultant, John McLaughlin, a nephew to the agent Tom McLaughlin.
King cited the fact that many of those who travel overseas to play basketball professionally in Europe are African-American. "Life being what it is, obviously an African-American player in Europe has to be subject to intimidation -- it's just a reality," said King. "Also, to me, there is a certain arrogance involved with a lot of Europeans who are so quick to criticize the United States for our race relations and our so-called capitalist society, and now they are the ones who are reneging on basic contracts. "A professional sports contract signed in Europe or the United States has to be enforced universally. If they're not being enforced, then American professional leagues should do what they can to make sure they are enforced."
King insisted that allegations of American players being defrauded in Europe carried symbolic importance for other expatriates working abroad. "Our citizens traveling overseas and working overseas should know that our government and corporate structure are doing all we can to protect them and their interests," he said.
The goodwill tour turned into a fiasco Monday when American agent Gary Ebert, who also represents Morris, filed a report with police in Shreveport, La., alleging that he received a death threat from someone who claimed to be associated with Olympiakos president and owner Panagiotis Angelopoulos.
After losing Monday to the Cavaliers in Cleveland, Olympiakos returned home to Athens on Tuesday without settling its judgments with Morris and McLaughlin. Ebert says his next move will be to seize upcoming bank transfers to Olympiakos from the Euroleague, which is based in Spain.