NBA Commissioner David Stern
At first glance, its pretty easy to understand why the NBA owners resorted to a lockout. They want to find a way to protect themselves from their own actions. The lockout also provides means for closing the ever-widening financial gap between large- and small-market teams, a gap that could destroy the gains the league has made in TV ratings, public perception and quality of play.
However, the truth is this lockout is much more complicated than one might think, and it is not one that very easily can be blamed on the well-paid players or their union.
Are the players at fault for demanding multi-million dollar salaries? I don't think so, especially considering that these now angry and hypocritical owners so easily paid up. I ask you: if someone was willing to pay you millions of dollars per year to do your job, would you take the money or would you refuse it? Of course, you would take it.
But due to this reckless extravagance, too many NBA teams are losing money. Unlike NFL owners, most NBA owners have balance sheets deep in the red. There are a number of reasons for this.
Television revenue is not spread equally among the NBA teams as it is among NFL teams. There needs to be a fix for that. As things are set up now, big market teams are able to extract more from their local TV deals than smaller market teams, which provides the big guys with a significant advantage in luring high-profile free agents and key role players.
There is also a market size disparity in some cases in trying to get corporations to pay for glitzy luxury suites, which is another reason that some large market teams have more money to spend.
Labor negotiations are often difficult to explain to those who’ve never been through the process. It can be messy, complex and brutal. But the edge, here, goes to the owners. Unions of all kinds these days are having a hard time gaining public sympathy, which surely means that very few people will be concerned that the world’s highest-paid union members may go without a paycheck for a while.
The fact is there is a real chance there will be no professional basketball next season. The lockout could last that long. Seven years ago, the National Hockey League shut down for an entire season to change the way it did business. Several NHL owners also own NBA teams. They might be willing to do the same thing with their basketball franchises.
Owners are serious about changing the business model of the NBA to make it possible for most, if not all teams to finally make a profit. But players are equally adamant that they not give too much back owners who they say gladly signed their contracts.
Of course, this labor dispute could seriously damage the remarkable progress the NBA has made. Right now, the NBA is about as popular as it was during the Michael Jordan era, which was a rich and bountiful time for professional hoops.
But now as players, and big and small market owners, take sides, the real strength of the NBA will be put to the test. The only good thing about this situation is that four months still remain before the start of the next season, which means time is on the side of an agreement being reached—for now.