David Stern

There was a sense of inevitability surrounding David Stern’s announcement on Monday that the first two weeks of the regular season have been cancelled. The owners have most likely always intended to make the players lose at least one paycheck so that they understand who is really in charge here. From this point on, how many more paychecks the players lose will be almost entirely dependent on their willingness to give the owners virtually everything they’re asking for.

As far as I can tell, there are three possible sides you can choose in this battle if you care about the good vs. evil narrative:

  • If you’re on the players’ side (and most bloggers and columnists I’ve read appear to be on their side), you believe that the players deserve to make all that money, that they shouldn’t be blamed if the owners overspend on certain players, and that the players have to take a stand or else they’ll get screwed over again and again in future negotiations.
  • If you’re on the owners’ side, you recognize that owners accept all the business risk in this relationship and you at least somewhat believe their claims about the losses they’re incurring.
  • Then there are the people who think there are no good guys in this stand-off and that it’s the fans who are getting screwed once again. While this particular stance is accurate, it strikes me as pointless pandering when somebody writes a column with this take. The NBA doesn’t care any more or less about its customers than any other sports league.

I haven’t weighed in about whose side I’m on before now because I don’t think it matters who is right or wrong, what’s fair or unfair in this negotiation. What matters is that we’ve now lost the first two weeks of the 2011-12 regular season and we’re going to lose a lot more until the Players Association realizes that the owners’ offers are not going to get any more generous while the players continue to lose wages. The owners are not going to cave in because they have the financial resources to outlast the players in this standoff. Sooner or later, the players need to come to terms with the fact that their perception of a fair division of NBA revenue is irrelevant, because the owners hold all the power and they can wait this out as long as it takes.

People like to focus on the salaries of NBA superstars when they debate whether or not players are overpaid, but I’ve always felt like that misses the point. The superstars absolutely deserve to make as much as they do (and you can argue they deserve even more) because they fuel the machine that drives attendance, merchandise sales and TV ratings. It’s the salaries of bench players who make $5 million or more per season that the Players Association is really trying to protect — and those are the players who are destined to lose the most in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Is it worth putting an entire season in jeopardy so that players like Josh Childress can continue to land $34 million contracts over five years? No, it’s not the fault of Childress or any other player in his position that owners and GMs are reckless enough to give out contracts like that. But the ongoing potential for players like him to continue to take advantage of clueless GMs is what this is really all about. It’s perfectly understandable for the players to fight to protect that, but I have a hard time as a fan rallying behind that specific cause.

It goes without saying that part of my motivation to suggest that the union should just sign the deal is that I simply want basketball to return. But I truly believe that the players are actually digging their own grave the longer they insist that they won’t accept anything less than the 53 percent of Basketball Related Income that they claim they’re entitled to. And no matter how they try to spin this on Twitter — and they’re definitely trying — the majority of sports fans are not and never will be sympathetic towards pro athletes who claim to be underpaid while earning tens of millions of dollars over their careers.

Players Association Executive Director Billy Hunter is certainly talking a tough game when he says things like, “I think everybody’s waiting for the players to cave. They figure that once a player misses a check or two, it’s all over. And I’m saying to you that that would be a horrible mistake if they think that’s going to happen, because it’s not going to happen.”

On the contrary, I believe that is exactly what will happen, and the only question is when and how much money the players will lose up to that point. It’s not about right vs. wrong at this point, it’s about realism vs. fantasy. The NHL owners were willing to lose an entire season during the 2004-05 lockout to get what they wanted, and I see no reason to believe the NBA owners will act differently. If the players aren’t willing to suck it up and sign a deal soon, it’s only going to get worse for them and we’re all going to suffer.

Comments (9)

  1. nice1… probably the best piece i’ve read about the lockout yet. most articles simply whine about how the fans get screwed over, which is pretty uninformative as you also kind of imply.
    it’s called adaptation, NBPA. get used to it. the owners miscalculated, their scheme didn’t work, now they have to downsize. it’s just what happens in economies in the long run. companies adapt. if they don’t, they go down. simple as that. get a grip everybody and just come to a damn agreement already. the owners can more or less get any deal they want – since they’re the owners. they own the players. i don’t like it, the owned players don’t like it, but less money is probably better than no money, so, yeah.

  2. Too bad international ball isn’t a serious enough alternative yet.
    A little competition would set this right.

  3. I know I love my NBA players but I haven’t seen any employee in any business in any economy making equal/more dough than their bos…… really, what’s up with that?!?

    On the other hand if any club loses money it is because it has shitty players, has shitty coaching, and has above all shitty management!

    If my comapny sucks, I’ll try to make somehow everything better, and not whine that other companies are getting better cash. If the Wolves are losing money – get better damn it!?!?! Don’t pay one dude 10 mill and the rest 100K and expect to get better cash just as a part of the league. It’s BS if you ask me. After all teams are (apart from an economic entity) about competition and winning. If you don’t win – deal with it! I don’t know why the owners of the Wizards should make as much as the owners of the Spurs.

  4. I knew Carefoot would go right at J.A. Adande. Absolutely love it, because Adande’s a funky guy. I’ve come to terms with the fact that most columnists are inconsistent while bloggers kick ass and (in the words of Kelly Dwyer and other NBA bloggers) chew bubble gum.

    You’re absolutely right, though. The players need a damn miracle to get anything close to what they wanted. At this point, you’d have to wonder how deflated the players would have to be if they signed this, and how that even affects the level of basketball they play. Sorry, but low morale should be taken into consideration if you’re the players. You’re stuck for a decade if you don’t take care of this now.

    So, now I say this: MARK CUBAN, PRETTY PLEASE CAN YOU COME UP WITH ANOTHER RAGTAG PROFESSIONAL LEAGUE THAT WILL BECOME DEFUNCT EVENTUALLY BUT SERVES ITS PURPOSE FOR ITS SHORT LIFE? We’d all love that, even if the LeBron ends up on a team like the “Knights.”

  5. Carlos: I dig Adande ordinarily and he’s definitely a smart dude, which is exactly why I think he doesn’t really believe the simple-minded drivel he wrote there. Any time I read or hear a commentator blather on about how pro sports leagues and athletes “owe it to fans” to do one thing or another, I roll my eyes. The NBA owes its fans as much as The Gap owes it to its customers not to sell jeans that make your legs break out in a rash.

    Pretty soon, we’ll start reading columns about how this lockout will alienate NBA fans and how they’ll never come back because of their limited entertainment budgets in this ecomony and blah blah fishcakes. They said the same thing about baseball and the NHL (I assume nobody with any credibility was dumb enough to make that claim about the NFL) and, lo and behold, the fans returned. This is just a colossal bummer for fans like us, nothing more or less.

  6. I just hope that they get a deal done so that we can have basketball this season!

  7. @ Mopiwan

    I’m with you, and with the players. If they could get similar salaries in Europe or Asia, they could “outlast” the owners, or ruin the NBA entirely…

    I hate to think that the owners, who dug themselves in that financial hole, would end up winning over the players, who didn’t ask for anything – hell, they accept a salary cut (53%, from 57%) – and who are the ones we actually care about. Does anyone go see the Kings wearing a Maloof jersey? Does anyone go see the Knicks with a Dolan jersey? No one cares about the owners, they’re f****** billionaire with many other financial assets. The players make the NBA, not the owners. I don’t see why players should pay for the owners’ mistakes.

    As much as I love the NBA, I’d rather see the season cancelled than the players getting screwed as much as they’re bound to the way things are shaping up.

    /rant on the f****** owners.

  8. Big pet peeve: the constantly regurgitated rhetoric that in no industry do employees make more than 50% of profit.

    First of all, not all income related and interrelated to the functioning of the NBA gets included in BRI that is split between owners and players. Second of all, I’m willing to bet in no other industry are employees also the product.

  9. I’m curious about what the actual endgames are if neither side is willing to give in. Clearly both sides are more or less banking on the other guys folding first, or at least waiting until the REAL best offer is made, but what if they really really don’t.

    Like, what if the players hold out for a full season before decertifying and spending another year in the courts?

    I honestly think both sides are more or less bluffing, but what if nobody is?

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