American sports fans have been conditioned to think of "pro basketball player" as a glamor profession, but at non-NBA levels it can be anything but. Those who ply their trade in the D-League, foreign leagues, and elsewhere must contend with regular periods of uncertainty related to their employment and city of residence, decidedly less-than-opulent living, and various disappointments related to their dreams of playing in the NBA.
Orien Greene is one of those athletes. A second-round draft pick of the Boston Celtics in 2005, Greene has played 131 NBA games over stints with the Celtics (80 games), Indiana Pacers (41), Sacramento Kings (7), and New Jersey Nets (3). A quick glance at his Wikipedia page shows tours in places like New Zealand, Libya, and Reno, as well. He's a journeyman, someone willing to go all over the world in order to earn a decent paycheck playing basketball.
Unfortunately, Greene has also become a victim of FIBA bureaucracy. As explained in an excellent piece by Henry Abbott for TrueHoop, Greene has been put in a position of professional uncertainty after failing a drug test in 2005 while a member of MyGuide Amsterdam in the Netherlands:
His problem is that he has been banned by FIBA for the better part of four years, and nobody seems to know much about exactly when, or indeed if, that ban will end.
Here's just one of the things Greene screwed up: He says he used to smoke marijuana, but doesn't anymore. To get around drug tests while playing in Amsterdam, he had a system of submitting urine that wasn't his own to the drug testers. He collected, he says, urine from three different clean people. And for a while it worked. But then it failed in various different fancy ways. As his time with the team was coming to an end, he took a drug test himself, with his own urine, and failed. Then, in the months that followed, somehow the sports' governing body figured out that other samples hadn't been his. There were interrogations, implications, some confessions. [...]
In 2010, Greene was suspended for two years, backdated to 2009. But 2013 is almost over now, and he's still banned. [...]
Which brings us to Greene's suspension, which seems to fall into a confusing gray area between the NBA and FIBA. Several times since Greene left Amsterdam, he has been "cleared to play" by different teams, including in the D-League, as he has been told at various times by any number of agents, lawyers, officials and advisors. There has been communication with FIBA itself in the form of various phone calls and emails that Greene can rattle off from memory. Put it all together and you get repeated instances of Greene being told he was cleared to play, then playing, and then later learning that he was never supposed to have played, had offended FIBA rules by playing. This is how his ban has lasted so long. [...]
Greene says that at one point a FIBA official told Greene the date his ban would end. Greene waited past that date, signed a deal, and then was told his ban had not in fact ended, and that the official he has spoken to was no longer at FIBA, and that his ban would be extended.
Abbott's story is full of stories like this one in which Greene believes himself to be in the clear, is told he is, and then later learns that FIBA has extended his suspension, in some part because Greene was under the not-crazy impression that he had been given the go-ahead. As such, he's caught between accepting jobs in leagues and countries that aren't under FIBA jurisdiction — effectively the United States and Middle Eeast — except that those gigs also raise the ire of FIBA. It's all like something out of Kafka, even if Greene can't play in the locations where those works were written.
Greene does not seem to disagree with the original suspension for his activities in Amsterdam, but it's safe to say that he's faced a punishment well beyond the original crime. If we take him at his word, then his subsequent transgressions have been honest mistakes based on incomplete or incorrect information, not willful attempts to flout FIBA regulations. Greene at least seems to deserve a sit-down with FIBA officials instead of his current interactions with something akin to a faceless governmental body.
We wish Greene luck in finding a resolution to this situation. As Abbott describes, this struggle is no longer about dreams of NBA greatness, but more basic needs like providing for his family and making a decent wage. If the typical non-NBA athlete has much in common with a working stiff, then Greene is something equally familiar: an individual treated questionably by an impersonal and arbitrary system.
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