Archive for category NBA Labor

Globalization a Good Thing for NBA Players

Ervin "Magic" Johnson

Magic scans the court

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, 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

Deron Williams
Nets Guard Deron Williams

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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NBA Owners: Clean Your Own Mess First

NBA Commissioner David Stern

NBA Commissioner David Stern

Like all other basketball fans, I am left here to wonder when we’ll see another game played and praying it isn’t the start of the 2012-13 season as some are suggesting. Even before the lockout every talking head on TV has said the players need to give back. I keep hearing how the players are overpaid and should be grateful for the money they receive. I keep hearing that they need to make concessions and come towards the owners. I keep hearing that they need to accept a salary cap. No one seems to be looking at the other side of the equation. Isn’t anyone going to wonder about the owners? Isn’t anyone going to ask about the GMs? Aren’t they the ones writing these contracts and signing the checks? I seriously doubt they’re handing their players contracts and blank checks just telling them to write in whatever they feel like they’re worth.

In the 1984-85 season (get in the hot tub, we’re going for a ride!), the first season the league re-established a salary cap, that cap was $3.6 million in total salary (average player salary: $330,000). That’s for the entire team. Not one person, but everybody. All twelve guys on the bench couldn’t make more than that. In 2005-06, the last time the CBA came up for renewal, the average player in the NBA was making $5 million. Players were, on average, making $1.4 million more than every full roster in the league just twenty years earlier. The cap in 05-06: $49.5 million. For this past season, the cap was $58 million with an average salary of $5.75 million. If the owners and GMs are writing the contracts and the checks, could it really be the players that have caused a 15-fold increase in average salary in a mere two decades?  Any answer other than “no” makes you an idiot.

Paying for talent is one thing. I get that. Talented players are what put butts in seats. Those filled seats buy concessions, souvenirs, and possibly more tickets. It’s one of the primary ways teams make money. The best players are going to demand the most money. There’s a really limited supply of those players, unfortunately and they should get what they rightfully deserve. You won’t hear me, or them for that matter, complaining about their salaries. On the flip side, you know how on Ebay, sometimes auctions just keep going up and up and no one has a clue as to why; how it looks like one person is bidding against themselves. I really get the impression that is what is happening here. Instead of saving that money to pay one of the stars, a guy making $3 million has his contract expire. Let’s say a GM has $10 million in cap space to play with. One of their bench players made $3 million last season, the last in their contract. This GM could offer another $3M/year deal, even $4M. Instead, afraid to lose this player that plays a role on his team, but not a leading one, this GM offers the full $10M available. The successful franchises in the league are too busy using their money like adults and hanging championship banners. Instead, this GM has now left his team no room to maneuver when their chance for a star or other impact player comes along. It isn’t even a tradeable contract. Who wants a role player at $10 million? Smart, fiscally responsible GMs are focused on the right talent, the right roles players, and most importantly, they’re interested in finding it at the right price (see: Lakers, Spurs, Mavericks, Boston). What do these teams have in common? Regular success on the court and a combined eleven championships since 1999.

These teams have managed their money carefully. They’ve made good deals for themselves for local and regional TV rights. They’ve also worked hard to make the best decisions both competitively and financially ensuring on-the-court success for their franchises. They should not be forced to limit what they can and can’t do because some of their fellow executives can’t manage a checkbook. A hard cap doesn’t save management from players making too much money; it saves them from themselves spending too much money on moronic contracts to players who shouldn’t even be in the league. These are grown, educated men. They didn’t become multi-millionaires and billionaires hitting the lotto. The smart teams should not be forced to subsidize the dumb ones. Subsidization isn’t the way to achieve competitive balance. Smart management is.

There should be an NBA version of an IQ test given to anyone who shows interest in buying a franchise. It could even be multiple choice and include questions like “What’s the most important thing when owning a franchise? A) Spending money competently to be competitive; B) Twisting local government’s arm to build you a new arena;  or C) Using the fact you own a team a as a pickup line.” Also “How much would you pay Darko Milicic for a season? A) About $5 million; B) About $1 million; or C) A couple burgers from the concession stand.” The successful teams know the answers are A and C.

At some point in the future, the league will sit at a table with the players. Before that can even be thought about, the owners need to clean their own house. They need to realize that it wasn’t the players that put them in this position. They did this to themselves. These will, in the end, be the uglier, far more contentious negotiations. These promise to make the debt negotiations in Washington look like a love fest. You will have the
struggling franchises asking for a salary cap and revenue sharing in an attempt to level the playing field. The large markets and successful markets will want the status quo. They have no issue with the current economics. They could sit down with the players and hammer out a new agreement so fast DeMaurice Smith will get dizzy. Everyone else is pushing for the nuclear option—no basketball till the players fold. That’s their public stance, anyway. This is their shot across the bows of the successful franchises. If there’s no season, maybe the successful teams will give in. That’s the dumbest game of financial chicken, the debt crisis notwithstanding, I’ve ever heard.

What I pray for most is that this game results in what the game needs most–contraction. Let me ask you this: Do we really need teams in Sacramento, Charlotte, Minneapolis, and New Orleans? These teams have little talent and even fewer fans between them. They could rent out high school gyms for their home games to save money. These mostly talentless teams play in areas where the population just doesn’t care. Would anyone notice if the Bobcats went away? They didn’t even seem to notice when the Hornets left for New Orleans in 2002. Even the Hornets in their current home stink. They are in a city with stiff economic issues and ownership so bad and eventually so broke the league had to take over the franchise. My solution: If a suitable owner doesn’t wake up and plunk down the cash by the time the lockout ends, whack’em. What reason exists to keep the Timberwolves around other than the extra night off the opposing team’s starters can get? No talent, no fans, and no one really cares. The Kings were all packed for a move down the way to Anaheim. This was the Maloof Brothers final attempt to force a new arena from the city. If the league had approved that move, it should have stipulated the sale of the team to Henry Samueli, owner of the Anaheim Ducks and the Honda Center, the Kings’ potential new home. All I keep hearing is that the lockout is more profitable for these franchises than actually playing their games. Explain to me agian why they even own a franchise. If any or all of these teams go poof in the next few months as this drags on, the league will be better off for it.

The successful teams will always remain successful as long as they stick to the blueprints they’ve developed over the years. Success breeds success. It becomes a a way of life; players, coaches, front office people, trainers, everyone lives and breathes winning. There is a system that works. Some teams have figured it out. These guys have put together successful teams; teams that have competed for and won championships. Some franchises have begun to model themselves after these teams by hiring key assistants away from them or studying how they go about evaluating and signing players. Others continue to act ignorant and childish. They’re like the 16-year-old girl at the mall with daddy’s credit card. As long as the fight remains the successful vs. the foolish, we are no closer to getting a deal done. Blame that on the losers.

Love it? Hate it? Got a question, statement, or just want to yell and scream at me. Feel free to leave me a message at or on my Facebook page.

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