So the NBA lockout rolls on, and very little movement on either side is being reported. The two sides have moved back to their corners and not much talking or negotiating for that matter is being done. What we have now, is a political game of PR, being played by a flatly dishonest David Stern, and an incredulous Billy Hunter taken aback by Stern’s brashness. To Boil it down, what we have, is David Stern saying that all that they are asking for is a “modest” 8% paycut for the 2011-12 season and then a freeze thereafter with possible raises tied to revenue along with a Hard Salary Cap. David Stern obviously thinks the NBPA is stupid, but he apparently thinks all of us in the general public are pretty dumb as well. When the owners themselves control revenue and willfully don’t share any of it with other owners for the most part, where are the guarantees that this will not be a perpetual cut that eventually squeezes the bottom half of the NBPA out in favor of much cheaper labor? What that proposal really does is end the era of the NBA player playing into his 30′s earning 7 figures on a yearly basis. What it will do, in essence, is put a premium on drafting well, or well enough to keep second round talent on the roster in favor of that veteran player making the Vet minimum. It promises to shorten careers, since the perceived “stars” will remain indispensable and the axe will have to fall somewhere.
The Owners are playing a dishonest game of hardball, and the players just want an equitable deal. It is that simple, although the dishonesty from the owners as far as their goals, muddies up the water a bit. The owners (David Stern) say that they deserve and reserve the right to make a “profit”. Nothing wrong with that. Except that you have franchises that were previously thought to not be worth much, such as the Washington Wizards and Detroit Pistons, selling for 551 and 420 Million Dollars respectively. Needless to say, as business ventures, buying a pro sports franchise is as dumb a money making vehicle as you can devise. There are many ways to invest half a billion and turn a profit, buying a pro sports team is nowhere on that list. Malcolm Gladwell, in a piece he penned for Grantland.com called the fascination with owning pro sports franchises a “Psychic Benefit”. It is a status symbol. Nothing more elegant than that. Some middle aged men living on a comfortable salary, might buy a muscle car. These people, buy Half a billion dollar sports franchises. So if we have established that turning a profit is not all that important to these men, why are we at this labor impasse? Well, they seem to have a need to protect the weakest of the herd.
Jerry Jones (Owner of the Dallas Cowboys) very famously once said of Tom Clancy’s attempt at buying the Minnesota Vikings, “Well, you can’t buy in on a shoe string”. Now, that is an arrogant statement, but it espouses the universal truth among NFL owners. NFL Owners are well capitalized. It is what has led to a consistent labor peace, and a constant bend to their whims on behalf of the player’s union. The players Know they can’t push the owners and that the owner threats, carry weight. The NBA on the other hand, has a dozen owners that lined up to receive what in essence was a bailout in 2009. David Stern characterized that 200 million dollar loan as a “show of the strength of the NBA’s credit worthiness.” He was playing politics then. He is playing politics now. To protect the few, he is willing to damage the many. The truth is that there are at the very least a dozen owners in the NBA that should not be in the business of owning a pro sports franchise, and those owners are using this lockout to leverage the league into guaranteeing their investment with cost certainty. So yes, this lockout is about rich guys wanting to keep their toys, and David Stern seems to be interested in helping them with that task. So where do we go from here? Well, for one, it will take the top end of owners to set a precedent and take more ownership of their league, such as Jerry Jones and others, did before them in the NFL. It is up to them to demand a standard be met for ownership of a NBA franchise and have David Stern go along to push this new standard.
As of now, it seems that David Stern is bringing along the satisfied owners to cater to the bottom third of the league that just can’t keep up. The reason for that is clear. Stern needs his benefactors, and he relies on that bottom third to keep him in power. Stern made his bed, and he is now determined to prove himself correct for making it. The mistakes he has made has proven him to be less than a steward of the game. It is now on his watch that we find ourselves with the very real possibility of losing an entire season, and squandering the popularity the game has gained. In the end, this lockout is on David Stern, and the owners will have to save themselves, from him.