Bostjan Nachbar, ELPA's managing director, weighs in on the changes EuroLeague players want to make in their overstuffed calendar and the need for a clear set of rules regulating their participation in national teams. 

Credit: ELPA
Credit ELPA

Even though the situation in European basketball was already complicated, the last week may have seen the culmination of the lack of understanding between the key players. Clubs, players, coaches, and national teams were involved in unprecedented chaos, where in some cases, no one knew for sure what was going to happen.

Players who belong to the same club were allowed or refused to join their national teams; coaches with authority attempted to disclaim their responsibilities by denying that they were involved in any decision-making; clubs refused to release players on the pretext that their opponent(s) or main rival(s) did the same.

And, of course, amid all this mess, players and coaches were heavily criticizing the context in which they were called to act, without any of them ever acknowledging their own share of responsibility in a process that's been going on for years. 

The November FIBA windows might be over, but the World Cup qualifiers will resume next February. Although it's highly unlikely that anything will change until then, all parties involved agree that the current calendar doesn't help anyone.

However, it's particularly troublesome for players and coaches, who are asked to balance between domestic leagues, European competitions, and national team obligations. 

In this vein, it's extremely important to see what the EuroLeague Players Association (ELPA) has in store. Although the union, currently presided by Virtus Bologna and Georgia national team forward Tornike Shengelia, has successfully tackled a variety of issues, improving EuroLeague players' overall routine, there's still an array of issues waiting to be addressed.

Scheduling conflicts, a common framework for players' release to their national teams, and the shortening of the EuroLeague season are some of the topics that the ELPA has already put on the table or intends to bring up during the next meetings between players and EuroLeague stakeholders. 

"When ELPA got established, FIBA windows were not a priority for EuroLeague players, who wanted ELPA to focus on internal issues of the league and raise the standards for the players, which we did," Bostjan Nachbar, ELPA's Managing Director, told BasketNews.

"Now that this has been arranged, the time will come for other topics, including the FIBA/Euroleague scheduling conflict," he added. 

Nachbar, 42, is an NBA and EuroLeague veteran, having played 335 games in the world's top league and another 146 outings in Europe's premier competition. He has been leading ELPA since its inception in 2018, and last summer, he renewed his tenure for 4 more years.

The former Slovenian player and the ELPA staff keep a close relationship with players, especially with members of the Players' Board, who act as an advisory body to the union's management.

On the occasion of the recent FIBA World Cup qualifiers, Nachbar took the time to answer to BasketNews' questions on EuroLeague players' thoughts, plans, and hopes ahead of the near future. 

Credit ELPA

What's the ELPA's overall take on the implications of EuroLeague players not being able to join their national teams?
We are dealing with professional organizations and professional players at the highest level. However, the regulatory framework in which these entities currently operate is not professional at all.

There is no definite set of rules that would apply to everyone, which calls for the need for clear player release rules and a revised season schedule, agreed upon between FIBA, EuroLeague, and the players. 

It does not make any sense that a player plays for his EuroLeague team one night and then is asked to join his national team the next day to play a game without any proper rest or preparation, increasing the likelihood of bad performance or injury.

Neither does it make sense that a player who is called up by the national team is not released by his club, while the player's teammate who plays for the national team where the club is located is allowed to join the national team, which is casting doubts of the regularity of both competitions.

Situations we saw in November windows are not "goodwill gestures" because players are not pawns on a chess board. Quite frankly, the current situation is unacceptable. 

What kind of leverage can EuroLeague players have over their clubs when they want to join their national teams? For instance, can they add a special clause to their contracts that forces the club to release them? 
The only solution is a collective one, where the same rules apply to all EuroLeague players.

Technically speaking, players can individually seek such clauses in their contracts. But this does not present a global solution for the issue at hand. It should not come down to each player's (or his agent's) negotiating skills to achieve whether he will be playing on his national team or not.

FIBA windows exist since 2017, while ELPA was founded in 2018. Why has the issue of EuroLeague players being unable - or even allowed - to play in the windows not been properly and effectively raised or dealt with by the Players' Union?
When ELPA got established, FIBA windows were not a priority for EuroLeague players, who wanted ELPA to focus on internal issues of the league and raise the standards for the players, which we did.

  • We have concluded the Euroleague Framework Agreement (EFA), the first Pan-European collective bargaining agreement in professional sport.
  • We determined the minimum salary across the league.
  • We introduced a strict overdue payables system and a validated 2nd medical opinion.
  • Medical standards have been improved; travel modalities have been upgraded; rules have been put in place regarding practices and off days, etc.
  • EuroLeague courts are cleaner and safer without commercial stickers.
  • The EuroLeague schedule has been optimised, so players travel fewer kilometers per season.
  • ELPA started to provide educational programs for players.
  • ELPA's legal team has been helping players in contractual matters during COVID and has provided an unprecedented level of service to players affected by the suspension of Russian teams from the Euroleague.

Now that this has been arranged, the time will come for other topics, including the FIBA/Euroleague scheduling conflict. 

Who decides who's staying with his club and who's not? Is it the EuroLeague clubs or the coaches? 
Players who are healthy and willing to play for a national team should not be in a position where someone else makes the decision for them.

But as I've said in the beginning, there needs to be a clear set of player release rules agreed upon between FIBA, the Euroleague, and the players. Then, this question will not be relevant any longer.

On what grounds/rules/principles are those decisions being made? For instance, how and why are clubs allowed to use double standards by allowing or forbidding their players to join their national teams?
As you can see, at this moment, there are no rules and no blueprint for these decisions. Clubs protect their investments, while national teams expect players to show up and play.

A better schedule for both competitions and a clear set of player release rules can and must be created, which allows all cases to be handled by the same standards.

How likely is it that incidents like the one involving Ergin Ataman and Vasilije Micic affect the relationships between coaches, clubs, and players? 
Even though they are all professionals, the relationship between the clubs, coaches, players, and national teams can be affected. But it should not be this way. I can speak only for players, and I know they are frustrated.

Credit Giuseppe Cottini/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

Was the ELPA ever consulted or asked by the EuroLeague or the clubs about what could be done (for instance, a change of schedule)?
Yes, the ELPA has recently been consulted by the EuroLeague, and we made an internal proposal based on the feedback we received from players.

We cannot share an update on the progress yet. It is all about finding the right balance between a global solution and protecting the business, which also affects players' salaries.

We appreciate the EuroLeague's approach of including players' opinions, and we will continue to work with them to find common ground. At the end of the day, a solution must involve direct talks with FIBA as well.

Has the ELPA ever been in talks with FIBA/EuroLeague about finding common ground on the calendar? If so, where are we at right now?
I usually do not comment on closed-door ELPA team meetings with our players, but I can confirm that FIBA windows have been a hot topic for players this year.

So far, we've visited 14 out of 18 teams this season. We already gathered players' opinion, created a scheduling proposal confirmed by our Players' Board, and sent it to EuroLeague management. We count on them to use it when they discuss the solution with FIBA.

While we have been continuously encouraging EuroLeague to actively work on a solution, we also realize that in order to achieve it, they and their counterpart - FIBA, need to be willing to compromise.

Do you think that under the new EuroLeague leadership things will change?  
I hope so. The new leadership of the EuroLeague has underlined again and again (also publicly) that it's a players' league and that the players' voice will have increased importance going forward.

FIBA has made similar statements recently, and we are waiting to see this come to fruition. ELPA is here to facilitate a lasting solution that works for all stakeholders. 

What can be done ahead of the next (and final) FIBA World Cup window in February 2023? What will ELPA tell the players ahead of those games, where EuroLeague and FIBA schedules will coincide again?
It is unlikely that things will change for the February windows, but progress could be made in the sense of having a clearer picture for the future.

For now, the EuroLeague schedule is set. The FIBA schedule is set. Changing the date of one or two games is not a solution. It is worse for EuroLeague players, as we saw in the November window.

We would love a quicker solution, but our focus is on finding a lasting solution for the next season(s).

A couple of days ago, Giannis Sfairopoulos pointed out that a formula must be found so that fewer games are held in such a short period of time, as EuroLeague teams also play in their domestic leagues. He also revealed thoughts of only running the EuroLeague for five months and then having those teams play in the national championships.

Obviously, Sfairopoulos' quotes reflect what has been discussed between coaches. But is there a similar view among ELPA members - that the EuroLeague season needs to be shortened instead of it being spread out? 
Players enjoy playing EuroLeague games because it's a highly organized league that brings out their best. They also realize that the majority of the income their clubs generate comes because it's a top-level competition.

Credit ELPA

EuroLeague players would like to see the overall basketball season (EuroLeague and domestic) shortened because it's extremely exhausting. However, that would mean everyone making concessions, including clubs in domestic leagues.

It would demand an overhaul of the current basketball system - and I assume this is unlikely. The focus should be on how to optimize the current schedule without adding more games in any competition.

Players will definitely not agree on making the season any longer or more demanding than it already is.

Does this mean the ELPA would oppose a EuroLeague format that includes consecutive playoff series to crown the champion?
I think full EuroLeague playoffs would be extremely good for basketball. Right now, many players and fans feel robbed because they do not see a semi-final or a final 5-game series of the best teams in Europe.

But again, it would demand a drastic schedule change. I think it's overly optimistic to think that we will see all entities (EuroLeague, FIBA, clubs, domestic leagues) come to such an agreement. 

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