Questions about insurance could sideline Nash

Posted: Thursday, August 15, 2002

RICHMOND, British Columbia -- Steve Nash is caught in the middle of a fight between Mark Cuban and Russ Granik, the details of which could only be appreciated fully by Lloyds of London.

Unless a resolution comes soon, Nash might not play for Canada at the upcoming World Champio-nships. And if the widening dispute between the outspoken owner of the Dallas Mavericks and the NBA's deputy commissioner gets any worse, two members of the U.S. team -- Michael Finley and Raef LaFrentz -- could also miss the Championships.

The argument boils down to insurance coverage for NBA players representing their national teams. Cuban maintains that the NBA-sanctioned policy that each federation purchases has become outdated.

As part of his gripe, Cuban has argued publicly -- much more publicly than the league office would have preferred -- that he would still be liable for paying a dollar-for-dollar luxury tax on the salary of any player who suffered a career-ending injury in the World Championships.

''Russ Granik told me that if I didn't like it I could find another league to be in,'' Cuban said Wednesday via e-mail.

Nash's agent, Bill Duffy, said Tuesday that it was looking increasingly unlikely that Nash would play for Canada in the tournament in Indianapolis from Aug. 29-Sept. 8.

Nash himself seemed only slightly more optimistic after going through a two-hour practice with Team Canada on Tuesday night at the former practice site of the Vancouver Grizzlies.

''I don't really know whether or not I'm going to play. Hopefully we'll find a resolution, but there's a lot of issues at stake and I think it's important that we investigate this,'' Nash said. ''For me, it's important not only to play for my country, but to somewhat adhere to the wishes of my owner, who pays my wages.''

Canada coach Jay Triano unabashedly agrees with Nash and Cuban on the issue, saying the maverick Mavericks owner makes a legitimate point. Triano already lost NBA players Todd MacCulloch and Jamaal Magliore from his roster, in part because of insurance issues.

Other international NBA players who would seem to be taking a similar risk include Pau Gasol of Spain, who plays for the Memphis Grizzlies, and Nene Hilario of Brazil, who soon will begin his rookie season with the Denver Nuggets.

''I think Mark has made an excellent point,'' Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley told the Memphis Commercial Appeal. ''It is a huge risk. ... He's probably got more to be concerned about than anybody because, quite honestly, he's got a lot of players in this thing.''

The standard insurance policy for NBA players in international competitions does not cover existing injuries. Dirk Nowitzki of the Mavericks had to take out an additional policy last week before being cleared by Cuban to play with the German national team.

Nowitzki's policy reportedly cost between $100,000 and $200,000, with the payment picked up by a sponsor.

One big difference is that Nash, Finley and LaFrentz have no existing medical conditions, so additional insurance coverage would not be so expensive.

The question now is whether all of the interested parties -- USA Basketball, the NBA, the Mavericks and the Canadian federation -- can work out a solution before the World Championships begins.

Sacramento Kings owner Joe Maloof also believes Cuban makes ''a valid point,'' although he indicated to the Dallas Morning News that he would not let the issue prevent three of his players -- Vlade Divac and Peja Stojakovic of Yugoslavia and Hedo Turkoglu of Turkey -- from participating.

The trick now, if there is going to be an amicable resolution, will be seeing whether cooler heads prevail.

Cuban has rankled the powers that be at the NBA with his repeated public airings of his grievances, everything from the quality of the officiating to the way the league office disseminates information to the media.

The league believes that the Mavericks owner, who built a billion-dollar fortune through his Internet company, has publicized issues that would be better discussed behind closed doors.

In this case, Cuban has been told that the proper forum would be the next Board of Governors meeting.

By threatening to withhold his blessing for his players to compete for national teams, Cuban has managed to inject himself squarely into the forefront of the buildup to the World Championships.

''I'm not going to publicly debate the subject,'' Granik said.

Perhaps there is one clue that a resolution is more likely than not.

Nash still plans to play in an exhibition game Friday night against China, and the risk of injury in that game is comparable to the risk he, Finley and LaFrentz would be under in Indianapolis.

If no solution was possible, the shaggy-haired Nash probably already would be on a plane. Instead, he's practicing with Canada and dribbling circles around his teammates as the days count down to the World Championships.

''If it's coming to a situation where it's real sticky for the owners and the (insurance) policy isn't up to date, then I think it's important that we get to the bottom of this so the future is bright,'' Nash said.

''I'd hate to miss the Olympics because of this stuff.''

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