Some More NBA Lockout Thoughts

Published: August 10, 2011

I’m back in American soil, and not surprisingly, the lockout is still in full swing. According to David Stern the NBA and the Players Association are “at the same place” that they were on July 1st. Billy Hunter says there is a better than 50-50 shot that there won’t be a season at all this year, and the sides are still around 800 million dollars apart annually on how revenue will be split. Hunter added that “something has to happen that both of us can use as leverage to save face.”

There’s no real face to be saved here except yours and those like you, Billy. You told the players they were going to get another insane deal, and instead they are going to have to settle for a great deal. If you had set them up for the reality of the situation, you wouldn’t need to save face because you could just negotiate based on the economics. Now, you can only admit you were wrong, get the best deal you can, and make sure that the people you’re supposed to work for (the players, not the agents) don’t lose their paychecks this year.

You can’t acknowledge that an employer has lost money for years while their workers have been paid exorbitant salaries (yes, six-plus million dollars a year on average for eight or nine months of work is exorbitant), and also not acknowledge that your concessions have to be big. The 160,000 million reportedly offered still puts the owners right around (with many still below) their break even point, while the players are making around two billion a year.

The owners should have relaxed their stance on guaranteed contacts, called a “blood issue” by Hunter, if, and only if, it was part of a larger deal that included huge concessions by the players relative to the last CBA in terms of revenue distribution. Giving in on guaranteed contracts was a good faith gesture/really dumb move on the part of the owners, and the response they got from the Players Association was a predictable, “Thanks, but we already had that. Now give us the other two things we used to have.”

That leverage could have been combined with a back down from a hard cap to a soft cap, maybe a higher minimum salary, a small cut off the top of any new TV contracts, a beneficial tweak in the Basketball Related Income formula, free iPhones or whatever in order for Billy Hunter to save face while pushing a big financial concession to the Players Union. It’s really unfortunate the league threw a big piece of the package away right off the bat. It could have been “face saving”. The move made little sense at the time since they were already heading for a near-certain lockout, and even less sense in hindsight.

This is going to turn into a very public, very messy PR battle, and the side that wins is going to be that which has the best message. Giving up public talking points that make the average fan cringe, like guaranteed contracts, will only make it harder for the league to leverage big financial concessions by the union. If and when the season doesn’t start on time, the message the league could put out is simple– We’re losing lots of money, we have no way to ensure that guys like Eddy Curry will even attempt to be a good player after signing huge contracts, and there is a huge gap in spending from the top to the bottom making the league less competitive. That kind of stuff resonates with the average fan.

Now, the owners are trying to get additional bargaining chips by reportedly trying to include individual endorsement money in the overall Basketball Related Income formula, a clear shot at agents. I get their point, but fans aren’t exactly going to rally behind that. It just enhances some peoples’ perception that owners are greedy billionaires looking to get the poor little guy.

David Stern

For all the good stuff Stern has done (and there is a lot of it), negotiating on major deals has likely been where he has had the least success. Looking back, the CBA, which was viewed as favorable by the league in 1999 and 2005, was in reality not, and the current TV deal is hundreds of millions below market value even in this deflated economy. If Stern loses again, it’s going to tarnish his long term legacy as one of the best GM’s in NBA history.

One thing he can add to his list of bargaining points is an offer to cut league salaries for anyone making over the new NBA average by an equal percentage to the cut that players take in salary. There just can’t be more than a few of them, and let’s get real– any player or employee making over five million a year can afford to throw a little back as part of a grand deal. I’ve seen countless comments about league officials’ salaries now, so it would definitely look good to address that the cuts the league is looking for in salary are across the board for high income earners, including Stern himself.Plus, the employees likely will get back any financial concessions by getting paid salaries this year.

The league and players can designate a committee to appropriate the money taken from their salaries. They can use it as they see fit to support local NBA communities by doing things like donating it to charities that buy tickets for underprivileged fans, building local courts, and funding or subsidizing local basketball programs. That kind of stuff benefits the game and the fans, which both sides seem to have lost sight of at some point.

One thing the average player should take note of

Hey there, average player.

Your career is 5 years or so at this level. Let’s say the average normal person works around 40 years or so. You sitting out year of your career will cost you one fifth of your total lifetime basketball earnings. That’s like the average person not working for eight years because their employer only offered to pay them an incredibly awesome amount of money, and not an completely insane amount of money.

Don’t let your agents and representatives, who have more to gain as a group from taking a hard stance than any individual player, fool you into thinking it is sane or expected for employers to pay their employees millions upon million of dollars if their company is not turning a profit. Look at the facts and make your own decision.

Surely that point must resonate with you. Employees across the country have taken cuts in stride when their employer is losing money, especially if the impact of not taking those cuts have such far-reaching negative consequences for the communities in which you live. This is one of those times. Owners have worked with you for decades to make the sport popular worldwide, and thousands of players have become rich in the process. They aren’t looking to screw you over, just to get a fair piece of the action that they so obviously were essential in creating.

To quote mW, “I’m usually rooting for the individual against The Man. Not here. The facts just don’t bear it out.”


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