The NBA has expunged anything everything NBA 2011. NBA TV is giving me games of my youth (and even earlier than that!)—Jordan, Magic, Bird, the Bad Boys, Russell, and even my hometown Nuggets when they wore the hideous uniforms and short shorts. It was a blend of basketball and pornography. The games aren’t even in HD! The NBA’s Facebook page has clips of these players and even older ones. They ask questions about names like Dr. J and Oscar Robertson. They replayed a game from the 1977 NBA Finals. I was 2! The other night while I was out with friends, they aired an All-Star game from 1984 at McNichols Sports Arena here in Denver. Outside some league news, NBA.com is completely retro in content. It’s like walking into the Hall of Fame with the names and the clips that can be seen on it. It’s rather surreal not seeing one speck anything NBA 2011 anywhere; no players, no plays, nothing. It’s like this past season didn’t exist and it was one of the more exciting, fun seasons in recent memory. It’s like David Stern did the NCAA one better—the NCAA just asks us to forget games didn’t happen or championships weren’t won. Stern actually did it. How childish of him.
David Stern may have thought that acting as though the players didn’t exist would be exactly what it would take for them to come back to the table and beg for forgiveness, give back all the money they were given since 2006 (the last time a CBA was negotiated and agreed to), and agree that they are overpaid prima-donnas. Stern forgot something—he was pretty successful in that goal of his to globalize the game. Oops. So far oneplayer
of note, Deron Williams, has signed to play overseas during the lockout. More stars like Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant are seriously considering it. Leagues exist all across Europe, South America, and Asia. The players of today have options. Yes, the money and prestige aren’t the same, but these guys are professional basketball players; they want to play.
LA, New York, and Miami are all far more glamorous locales than places like Turkey, Greece, and China, but they’re also places that wouldn’t have pro leagues if not for the influence of the NBA. To now have the opportunity to get those players is like Christmas in July. It gives these leagues credibility they’ve never had before. Many of these leagues have been able to get the occasional player now and then, but with the exception of Allen Iverson (and to an extent even him), they’ve been players that couldn’t get a job in the NBA. Now both player and league look to cash in. This jump overseas would allow the players that do it an opportunity to market themselves to new places and potential new fans. There are jerseys to be sold, shoes to market and advertise, and whatever other products and services their agents can line up for them. Now names that were only known here in the United States have the possibility to be known and marketed the world over. Don’t think Nike, Under Armour, and all the other companies that dress, highlight, and market these athletes haven’t begun whispering in the right ears.
There is one thing more important to the players than a paycheck or a new or expanded endorsement deal at stake here and that is negotiating leverage. When they locked out the players, the owners did this as a way to show them who was boss. A portion of ownership believes that the players have taken them to the cleaners over the length of the last CBA. The players, along with other members of ownership, believe things are good to great. The players have agreed to give back some, but, obviously will not give away the farm, which is what the majority of owners are expecting. I wonder how those owners are now feeling knowing that the corner they thought they’d put the players in doesn’t even exist. How sad is it for the smart owners to know that their colleagues can’t even put together an effective lockout?
So far, there have been exactly zero negotiations between the two sides since the lockout was announced a little over three weeks ago. The sides can’t even agree to who lost what and who made what. Players have the blessing of their Union to go overseas. Heck, I’d be booking the tickets to Europe and China if I were the Union. It’s their best assault at the group of owners who are dissatisfied with what ultimately is their own stupidity. They’ve blown it again. If the lockout was their ultimatum, the union’s reply is sending their best and brightest stars overseas to play. If it was to take away the game the players love, Europe and Asia are still very much open for business. The owners can thank their fearless leader, Stern, for that.
With so many players seriously considering the idea of playing overseas, now is the time for the Union to force the league to the table. Union President Billy Hunter can say “My guys are ready to go play elsewhere. If you want to avoid a public relations disaster with the fans, let’s sit down and figure this out.” The owners will be the ones forced into a corner; forced to concede that their move had failed. They will not want to have to explain to their respective fan bases why some league in Europe is paying their favorite player instead of them. The fan does not care about the fight over the money. All they will see is that the player they go to games to see play is playing somewhere they can’t go and watch unless they want to fork over a lot of money for a passport, airfare, and hotel accommodations.
Fans are savvier than most owners give them credit for. Players know that the fans know the game and the game behind the game. Owners can’t see this. Most owners hide in their world, in luxury suites that most people can’t afford and don’t want to sit in anyway. It’s like a sterile bubble away from the commoner. Most fans want to be close to the action. Fans know when their team has signed the wrong guy at the wrong price. Fans know that too many of these contracts exist around the league and know exactly which teams produced them. Guess why some arenas are half empty most nights? Fans know that the owners are as much, if not more, to blame for the league’s current “troubles”. The Union should use this to their advantage as much as they can as often as they can. Maybe the season even starts on time!
The owners came into this summer believing they had the upper hand. They believed that if they locked out the players, they could force their hand to save them from themselves and their own mismanagement. They never expected to find that the roles could be switched so quickly. If the next few weeks go as they should, it will lead to the two sides sitting at the negotiating table. For the players, it will mean they may go back to work sooner than later. For the owners, it saves them the nightmare of their stars making money for themselves and others. When they do finally reach a deal, it still won’t mean sweet dreams for many owners. Like the last five seasons, it’s a position they put themselves in.
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