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Philippines' Clarkson calls on NBA to free players for global tournaments

Jordan Clarkson, who dashed to the Asian Games after the US league released him in a last-minute U-turn, said he had wanted to play for the Philippines for years but had been repeatedly blocked (AFP Photo/Vaughn Ridley)

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Jordan Clarkson has called on the NBA to let players compete in more global tournaments to boost the sport's popularity worldwide, ahead of his first appearance for the Philippines at the Asian Games.

Clarkson, who dashed to Jakarta last week after the US league released him in a last-minute U-turn, said Sunday he had wanted to play for the Philippines for years but had been repeatedly blocked.

"After being told no so many times, I refused to give up. I kept fighting," he said. "I'm here now, ready to compete."

"Just playing in the Games already means a lot me. It's a great experience for me. Getting a medal would be an amazing achievement."

Excitement is brewing in the basketball-mad Philippines over Clarkson, who was born in the US but has Philippine citizenship through his grandmother.

The Asian Games are the world's second-largest multi-sport event, but unlike the Olympics it is not among the competitions NBA players are normally allowed to participate in.

The multi-billion dollar US league has expressed concern that players could pick up injuries or miss pre-season training on international duty.

NBA officials agreed Wednesday to grant a "one-time exception" for the 26-year-old Clarkson and two Chinese players -- Houston Rockets centre Zhou Qi and Dallas Mavericks forward Ding Yanyuhang -- to play in Jakarta.

Speaking to reporters ahead of his first match on Tuesday against China, Clarkson said star-studded international matches could help the sport to overtake soccer.

"I think they get the point -- in Asia kids are picking up a basketball. I feel like the NBA is allowing us to do our thing.

"I know soccer is still a big sport, but if soccer is up there I feel basketball is right underneath."

A gold medal at the regional Olympics would be his top career achievement to date, Clarkson added, two months after appearing in the NBA Finals.

The late decision to let Clarkson play followed lobbying by officials and a social media campaign by thousands of Filipinos anxious to see their star.

He arrived in Indonesia Thursday but did not participate in his team's thrashing of Kazakhstan in their opening match. He was chosen to carry the Philippines flag at Saturday's opening ceremony.

The Philippines had originally withdrawn from the Asian Games men's basketball tournament after 10 players and two coaches were hit with suspensions and fines after an on-court brawl at a World Cup qualifier last month.

However the federation hastily assembled a team from scratch earlier this month after being prevailed upon by a senior aide to president Rodrigo Duterte to change their decision.

The Philippines have won four Asian Games basketball golds, but none since 1962.