Confession: I'm an NBA addict. Professional basketball is by far my favorite sport. This is the first article I've written about the NBA lockout because, you know, I'd rather write about actual basketball games. With the NBA giving the players an ultimatum on Saturday, I feel the need to finally comment on the labor dispute. The players need to give in.
In principle, the players are right. Under the last collective bargaining agreement they were entitled to 57% of basketball related income. Their line in the sand is now 52%. In addition, they are willing to make concessions on the majority of structural issues. From the length of contracts to the luxury tax, the players have demonstrated a desire to compromise and get the 2011-2012 season under way.
How can the players be at fault?
While the NBA players have my sympathy, I cannot help but to hold them responsible. It's not that I view them as more greedy than the owners. (In fact, the majority of the stars are vastly underpaid. This winter, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder will receive ungodly amounts of money to play baseball, potentially more than $25 million per year. I guarantee you that LeBron James and Kevin Durant create infinitely more revenue for their leagues and clubs than Pujols or Fielder ever will.) No, the reason I blame the players is because they will not be offered a better deal.
The owners are squeezing the players for every penny. Reasonably, the players are resisting. Thus far in the negotiations, they have been more than willing to work with the owners. They offered to sacrifice 5% of their split of BRI. It may very well be wrong that the owners are asking for further reductions.
The problem is that the owners have more leverage. If they are willing to keep games from being played, they will eventually get the CBA they desire. They are billionaires with other sources of revenue. In a brilliant piece for Grantland.com, Vishnu Parasuraman wrote that Portland Trailblazers owner Paul Allen could fund the claimed $300 million losses of the NBA for the equivalent of someone making $30,000 a year spending $630. Allen and the other owners are in no rush from a financial point of view.
Who Do You Blame for the Lockout?
Unfortunately for the players, they cannot afford to wait indefinitely. NBA careers are short. With the exception of the superstars' endorsements, players do not have countless other steams of income. Aside from basketball, what other opportunities do they have to earn millions of dollars a year?
Rather than miss more paychecks, the players should just agree to 51% and get to training camp. Not because it's right, but because there are no other options. The notion of de-certifying the union is ridiculous. Moving the labor disagreement to anti-trust courts would almost certainly guarantee the cancellation of the season. Furthermore, there is no certainty the players would win in court*.
The longer the lockout lasts, the less valuable the stars will be. How long of an absence from television will it take for the demand of LeBron's shoe to fall? How long can Kevin Durant be away from TNT's Thursday night double header before it isn't worth Degree's money to put him in their commercials?
For the "average" player, how many paychecks can they afford to lose? How well are the veteran role players prepared for their retirements?
The owners are being unreasonably stubborn. As the economy recovers and new television deals are negotiations they will make money. In the next decade, franchise values will rise. I hate Michael Jordan and Dan Gilbert's hard line stance. It isn't fair. It isn't honest.
The players, like everyone else, inhabit the real world. Being "right" in an argument doesn't ensure victory. It may be sad, but they should accept the owners proposal and end the lockout. It will mean "losing" the CBA, but not as badly as they will if the lockout continues.
*As is the case with all sports leagues, the NBA occupies an ambiguous legal position. From the point of the players, it is a monopoly. Basketball players can make a living working for one business, the NBA. For the owners, however, they are all partners in the same business that competes against other sports and entertainment choices. In addition to cinema and television, the NBA spends the first part of the season going up against football, the last part of the season competing against baseball, and the entire season competing against hockey. I would agree with the owners on this point. I forget who said it, but I remember on talk radio many years ago someone described the MLB not being a monopoly. Their argument was "the Yankees want to beat the Tampa Rays, not run them out of business."