NBA Lockout Ends and Players Get Played

The news blared with the electric intensity of a Black Friday taser. The NBA is back, baby! A 66 game season! Returning on Christmas Day, no less! As former journalist and current NBA talking-head Michael Wilbon cheered, "The league couldn't stage a more satisfying comeback. Even if those games are all moved to TNT, I'll feel the same way about the Christmas Day return."

There were those bitter adversaries, NBA Commissioner David Stern and National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Billy Hunter, grinning ear-to-ear, discarding their suit jackets and wearing bunchy, seasonal sweaters from the Heathcliff Huxtable collection. Stern was smiling so wide, it appeared that if you poked his middle, he'd giggle like he was Poppin' Fresh. Hunter, no doubt feeling relieved that he at least fought off a “hard cap” and other demands from ownership, was clearly in the holiday spirit as well. Only NBPA President and LA Lakers co-captain Derek Fisher, wearing a suit, not a sweater, his eyes bleary from the marathon bargaining session, resembled someone who'd just endured one of the more bitter sports/labor negotiations in history. He looked like he'd just emerged from a Turkish prison.

Judging by facial expressions alone, I'm going to stand with Fisher on this one. Forget the cuddly sweaters. Ignore President Obama's personal “good deal” thumbs up. Disregard the avalanche of tweets from your favorite star player about how excited they are to get back to work. The players were dunked on and Stern is wagging his tongue while hanging from the rim. If you ignore the bells and whistles and wipe away the confetti, we have what at the bottom line is a massive transfer of wealth from players to owners: three billion dollars over the next decade to be more precise. Three billion extracted from those we pay to see, to those who have spent the last twenty years treating fans and taxpayers like the cowering abused partners we are.

For those interested in the finer points of the proposed "amnesty provision" for releasing players or the "stretch clause", please search elsewhere although I will say that giving teams the right to invalidate guaranteed contracts is a severe concession for the union to make. It also will do more to help big-market teams that spend carelessly than the much discussed poor, small markets squads. In other words, there is nothing in this Collective Bargaining Agreement that changes the basic contours for reaching a championship: teams that draft well and manage their cap will thrive no matter the size of their region (see San Antonio and Oklahoma City), and teams that spend blindly (the Knicks and Nets) or are owned by people proud to be stupid (the Kings or the Suns) will suffer. The deal won't make LeBron’s sphincter unclench in the playoffs and it won't make Carmelo play defense. It won't make Kobe any younger or Bynum any healthier. The league will still be The League. There are no promises that the owners will plow this newfound lucre into their teams. In fact, there are now greater restraints on spending than before. There are no assurances that any funds will be earmarked for coaches or scouts. There are no announcements that any of these savings will translate into lower ticket prices or NBA Package discounts for fans. All it means is that the owners have received a financial windfall because they own and we don't. Now Donald Sterling, owner of the LA Clippers, can buy some more slums. Now Phil Anschutz, minority-boss of the Lakers, can keep fighting the teaching of evolution in schools. Now Dick Devos of the Orlando Magic can give even more generously to Focus on the Family. Now every shadowy Koch Brothers/Karl Rove political outfit that takes unlimited contributions will get a serious windfall just in time for the 2012 elections. Break out the bubbly.

This should sting every player because coming off a year with record revenues, they should have been getting more and instead they took historic cuts. Instead their contracts are now not fully guaranteed. Instead they are weakened. They are weakened even though they are the game. For the millions who paid good money to watch the Chicago Bulls player Michael Jordan soar, no one ever paid a cent to see the Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan molt  Athletes are different than typical workers and not just because their paychecks tower over our own. They are different because they fulfill the roles in production as both workers and product. They are the shoemaker and the shoe. Or as former Washington football great Brian Mitchell said to me, "In a restaurant, a chef cooks a steak. In sports, we are the chef and we are the steaks.”

For 15 years, young stars picked in the draft’s first round have seen their salaries constrained. Derrick Rose, the NBA’s 21-year-old MVP, has the 126th highest salary in the league. On an open market, he would make maybe five times his current income. There are also new provisions, still to be finalized, on raising the age of eligibility and whether owners will have the power to send players to their developmental league, along with dramatic salary reductions. Still, expect the players to approve it, because in the end, players average six years in the league. Giving up 1/6 of the expected earnings for your entire life, was not an option.

I understand that, but it didn't have to be this way. This deal is just all so very pre-Occupy Wall Street. I wish more players had spoken out and not let David Stern’s PR machine define them as “greedy millionaires, insensitive to the public’s suffering in these hard economic times.” I wish more had directly raised the issues of Occupy Wall Street, like 11 year veteran Etan Thomas who wrote, "While the issues raised by the Wall Street occupiers differ from the issues of this lockout, aren’t there obvious parallels in power imbalance? Who is in the same position of power as the 1 percent ? Who wants a bailout for their own mismanagement decisions? Who is more closely aligned with the corporate interests from which the Wall Street occupiers are looking to reclaim the country?”

I wish they had taken their fight out of the boardroom and into the public sphere. Make no mistake, I’m an NBA junkie and I’m thrilled to be watching ball sooner rather than later. But with every game of this warped, bastardized 66 game season, I’ll remember that we had a lockout where the rich got richer, the players got played and the fans didn't get a damn thing.

22 Reader Comments | Add a comment

Should have went straight to court

The NBPA should have learned from the NFLPA and decertified right away. That was their only leverage.

It boggles my mind the crap professional sports gets away with, just because they are professional sports. Even something a basic as a draft wouldn't be tolerated by any other profession.

Imagine going to MIT and telling the #1 graduate from the Computer engineering department "Sorry you can't go work for Google, because Microsoft owns your rights."

A salary cap is straight up collusion.

The way teams handle injuries is a joke compared to occupational health an safety standards.

I understand that Unions are allowed to negotiate away those rights, but by decertifying their is a threat that all these sports institutions could be eliminated. It would certainly strike some fear into the owners. It certainly worked for the NFLPA.

The problem is the courts need time to operate. You can't wait 4 months then decertify, because as correctly Zirin points out, you don't want to lose 1/6 of your lifetime earnings.

So this is were I disagree with Zirin. It's a little to easy to blame just the owners on this one. The players didn't have to agree to anything. The NBPA messed up bad, and as a result they lost 3 billion dollars.

Poor Union leadership is to blame here.

Terrible analogy, Kevin

Kevin, you simply cannot compare the NBA or any professional sports league with the corporate world, both for good and for bad.

The fact that the NBA is the only major professional basketball league in North America (ergo, there is no Google to compete with Microsoft) means, yes, that a draft pick has to go where he is drafted. But because the NBA is so exclusive a basketball league, the average salary is $5.15 million. If there were hundreds of basketball leagues like there are hundreds of tech companies, the salaries would be a lot less extreme, because not only could employees choose where to go, employers could choose who to hire, and what to pay them.

And the fact that you compared the NBPA to the NFLPA when they are an even weaker union with even less leverage makes even less sense.

And Zirin, good article, but you created the impression that all 30 owners made $$$, when according to the NBA this was not the case. Since they did not open the books, we have no idea whether you are right... or not.

Please

Where does this pity party for millionaires come from? What's the difference between a millionaire that bounces a ball and won the works for as a broker?

Owners are now required to spend 85% up to the salary cap in the first few years and then it goes up to 90% so that in a way is a min salary cap. Most unions don't get that requirement from there company.

The average NBA salary is $5.75 million so please don't ever call any NBA player part of the 99%. Those 6 years of an average career is worth over 20 of the average worker. Ask yourself how long would it take you to make just the league minimum over $473,000.

NBA players get to sign a multi year contract and then if they suck at their job get to keep their salary. Ask your boss if you can do that. I'm in a state union where we are always being threatened with wage reductions, increases in retirement contributions or pension deductions/elimination. No NBA player has shed a tear for me so they shouldn't get tears from the REAL 99%.

Dave, you're not the OWS Leader so you have no right to say they are part of the 99%. The owners are greedy but the players aren't
exactly living off food stamps.

Stop this tear fest just because the players don't make as much as the owners. In what world do the workers make as much as the owners of a company? Stop acting as if athletes are the most abused people in America.

Hey Dave, do your employees make as much money as you?

Continuing with Jason

DZ seems to be more upset that a settlement was reached than the locked out players. DZ refers to the NBPA as a union, it isn't. No union would have such a wide disparity in their members' salaries. Negotiated union contracts set pay scales for their members. If a salary cap is collusion then so is union pay scale.

And let's dispense with the "fans didn't get a damn thing" argument. If the NBPA won all their contract issues, how does this benefit the average fan? If D. Rose gets to make 5 times his current income how is fan helped by this? With any union,association,guild their main benefactors are their members not the fans or outsiders.

NBA teams are separate corporate entities

jjdynomite, do you know anything about the legalities of sports?

The NBA isn't one business. It's 30 separate business. The Lakers don't share their profits with the Bucks. Why? It's the same reason Microsoft doesn't share profits with Google, they are separate businesses. There are dozens of federal laws written to give all the major sports anti-trust exemptions for a wide variety of actions.

While those laws give them exemptions for certain things (for example negotiating TV contracts). It doesn't give them free rain to do whatever they want.

For example there is no exemption granted for a salary cap. The only reason a salary cap exists is because the players agreed to it.

This is why decertification is a good strategy. If the owners want to reduce the salary cap, the players can decertify and sue the owners because they are acting as a trust.

Still the highest payed pro athletes in sports

Boo-hoo. I don't want to hear anymore OWS nonsense anymore. They are the highest pay athletes in all of sports and the NBA is no where near as popular as the NFL.

I sided with the NFL player in their lock out. But the NBA guys needed to be taken down a peg.

DZ your buddy Etan Thomas is part of the problem. He was a lottery pick that has made $44 million in his career. Look at his career stats, is he worth that much? 6 PPG?

I don't care what the league as a whole did last year. You can't have lottery pick bust like your buddy Etan making that much money. Where is the incentive for him to be great?

CBA

I won't be watching because I'm sick and tired of greedy,racist, white male control and dominance over every aspect of professional sports. It's a shame that the people have no say and considering they just went out and spent 1 billion on BLACK FRIDAY TO GIVE BACK TO THE 1% IT JUST MAKES YOU WONDER WHERE WE ARE ALL HEADED. POWER TO THE PEOPLE .

NBA players (and Comrade Zirin?) Top 1%

Let's get real, Comrade Zirin spews "radical" bullshit to rake in $$, and kiss the asses of rich athletes.

For the sake of truth, every single NBA player is in fact in the Top 1%. According to the IRS, the Top 1% in the United States earn $380,000 each:

http://www.financialsamurai.com/2011/04/12/how-much-money-do-the-top-income-earners-make-percent/

The NBA minimum is $480,000 this year.

The real question is: is limosine-Marxist Zirin in the Top 1%?

black and WHITE

The comments show the black/white divide perfectly with an insidious yet subtle form of racism mixed in with personal greed. Comments from Anglo men who believe in their corporate master and that the CEO should make all the money. If you don't support the players, the you are in for a life of misery and bitterness and your crappy salaries (most of the commentators are already there!). And stop with the comments about Marxism since it exists in your "capitalist" USA (i.e. corporate bailouts and monopolies).

To Ark P

I can't speak for anyone else but I can't feel sorry for millionaires because they are only going to make $5.7 million instead of $5.75 million. Can you honestly say that the players are being taken advantage of while making tons of money? If that's being taken advantage of then I don't know what you call the rest of humanity.

"If you don't support the players, the you are in for a life of misery and bitterness and your crappy salaries." What does that even mean? I'm glad to see the players and game back, I don't hold a grudge against them but I won't cry for them the way Dave seems to want. That was my point.

Can you honestly say that the players are part of the 99%? Do you feel sorry for LeBron because he doesn't make as much his owner? What company do you work at where that's the case? How many corporations have to split revenue 50-50 with 12-14 individuals? Remember owners also employ thousands of other individuals that aren't involved in the CBA.

I'm not holding a pity party for the owners but they still have to run a business and reviving the old model was better than having franchises go under. Tens of thousands of workers would have been out of jobs if that would have happened. Including the poor, poor players.

OK then big mouth Tornado. . .

Since you're so sure that Zirin's in the 1%, I think it's fair to ask this. What kind of work do you do for a living? How do you have so much time to harass him and the readers of this website? How much money do you make in a year? Let's get real on this: You want to destroy Dave Zirin so much, you're constantly exposing you're own character. And it isn't really much to begin with now, is it?

Top 1%

Players make their money by working. They are workers. Most of the 1% make their money from investments, right? Not that they don't work hard - some probably do. Factor in that players average 6 years, risk serious injury and are the spectacle. I don't pay to watch an owner shuffle papers or bark at someone on the phone or do whatever else and owner does. Let's do away with owners and let teams be run by a board with fan and player participation. They could hire their own administrative team that would be responsible to the community - fans and players. What does an owner do? Nothing that an administrative team couldn't. It's an old and outmoded model, and as is becoming more and more clear, IT DOESN"T WORK. To quote the immortal Bill Terry, speaking about baseball : BAseball must be a great game...otherwise it couldn't have survived all the stupidity of the owners."

Kevin, do you know anything about the legalities of spellcheck?

It's "free reign" not "free rain".

And if you think the 30 NBA "separate businesses" are the equivalent between Google and Microsoft -- who share absolutely nothing except a similar industry vertical -- you have some reading to do. The 30 NBA teams split national TV fees ($30 million/season) as well as luxury tax proceeds:

http://www.nba.com/2011/news/features/steve_aschburner/09/20/revenue-sharing-still-vital/index.html

... and I assume have been working on local revenue sharing models as well, similar to what MLB does.

And please explain: "The way teams handle injuries is a joke compared to occupational health and safety standards." Are you comparing the NBA to some union or public sector job, or to an actual private sector business? Methinks, given the NBA is an entity based on athletic prowess, their standards are relatively high. But then again, you are giving the impression that you know better. Link(s), please.

Honestly, it boggles my mind how some posters can throw out these opinions as if they were facts and expect the rest of us plebeians to believe them because they sound authoritative. Try again, Kevin.

NBA CHUMPions

It was inevitable that owners were going to win this fight as soon as players missed a paycheck. David Stern knew that. Players declaring they were fighting for future players was obviously BS. However, like Dave pointed out, our concern should be that this is just an example of how power is situated with wealthy owners. Don't let the size of NBA salaries obscure that fact. While they may not be part of the 99% on the basis of income, NBA players do share the inferior position of having work rules and conditions imposed upon them as opposed to being negotiated with respect for all concerned parties.

jjdynomite

Firstly, if you actually read my comment I said the NBA and other leagues have very specific antitrust legislation that allow them to negotiate TV contracts as a group.

If you would like more information:

http://www.thesportjournal.org/article/role-antitrust-laws-professional-sports-industry-financial-perspective

If you would like a high profile example of how professional treat injures google "Walton vs Cook 1981"

Try again, jjdynomite

99%

The players jobs are not nearly as tough as the job of many in the 1% who work long hours while having no guaranteed contracts. Do you consider actors, doctors, lawyers or small business owners to be in the 99%? These people work just as hard as any NBA player and many work all year round. So salary doesn't matter when we talk about the 99%? I face the same risks that any player does but I don't get a guaranteed contract. I could lose my job if I suck. Maybe I get 6 months of unemployment. Get a disease and can't work. I'm on my own for money and healthcare. I work just as hard as my bosses. They get the money.

Do you think more than 1% of the NBA players give a shit about the average fan or if the arena workers got laid off? How many of them have been lobbying Congress for tax increases, greater education funding or health care reform? Do feel bad for them cause they don't feel bad for you.

What your talking about Bill is the way the Packers are run. Do you think the Packers who are run by shareholders and the community are any different than any of the other NFL owners? The CEO of the Packers was with the owners when it came to the NFL negotiations why would an NBA team run the same way be any different?

My basic question is, what makes the new CBA so bad that the players are being taken advantage of? They still make tons of money to play a game. Yea, the average career is only 6 years but they make more in those 6 years than the average household makes in a lifetime. And saying that you don't pay to see the owners shuffle paper is like saying, "I only pay for the parts of the car." The cost includes everything it takes to bring it together.

Kudos, Jason -- no kudos, Kevin

Jason, thanks for writing a cogent, sensible post. Zirin likes to feel bad -- and make us feel bad -- for the underdog as (the pursuit of) fairness is boilerplate Leftist doctrine, regardless of any extenuating circumstances or comparison to society at large.

Therefore, 450 millionaires are more worthy of our sympathy than 30 billionaires, just 'cuz they're "poorer" and "powerless" and are therefore getting taking advantage of. Yup, this is totally ridiculous -- but totally in line with the Leftist thought of Zirin and his ilk. At least the NFL has serious legacy issues (i.e. post-retiremement player support via pension and health benefits). The NBA does not.

The only people anyone sensible should feel bad for are local neighborhood, stadium and team employees (minus senior executives) who have suffered due to this lockout. That is all.

P.S. Kevin, interesting with the Walton vs. Cook example. So here we have one (possibly isolated) incident of a player being screwed via medical malpractice -- and Walton sued, and he won a settlement out of court. Please explain how this suggests any sort of top-down medical misfeasance or malfeasance on the part of the NBA, which is what you explicitly stated in your initial post. Try, try again, Kevin.

Kevin...

The NBA may not be a single corporate entity in the way that Google is, but they are not "30 separate businesses," either. If that were true, why would the Lakers agree to a draft or a salary cap when both practices hinder a franchise like them?

"The Lakers don't share their profits with the Bucks." Actually they kinda do. They may not literally write a check to Milwaukee, but if an LA Lakers logo appears on merchandise, it is licensed not only to that franchise, but to the NBA. If a team signs a broadcast contract, the whole league is involved, not just one team. Such revenues go into a pool whence they are subsequently divided.

Jjdynomite was right about your your analogy. If had your own pro basketball league (which would be legal), your team could bid for the services of Kemba Walker or Enes Kanter and the NBA could not stop you until said player actually signs a contract. This happened regularly between NBA vs. ABA, NFL vs. AFL, NFL vs. USFL. For other businesses to follow the American pro sports league model, Microsoft would have to "draft" a grad from MIT and require that (s)he stay with a poorly run location instead of a more desirable one for a specified duration (ca. 3 years).

Players' loss, but not an apocalypse

"There are no promises that the owners will plow this newfound lucre into their teams." That's doomsaying hyperbole. Actually there is at least one, what with a salary floor which will force some teams to spend more. Contractually the players' side has it worse now than before the lockout, though the owners went on the offensive and were likely better prepared.

Whereas the NFL publicly flirted with extending the regular season in the face of non-guaranteed contracts and life-shortening injuries, the NBA was trying to pull back more revenue in a long tug-of-war.

Owners claimed most teams were losing money, which was not likely the whole truth. A company can turn a profit even if particular ventures lose money. It may well be that only a certain number of franchises--or certain specific ones--have to generate net revenue to buoy the whole operation.

Owner or player, seemingly every partisan on this issue either gloats or cries vae victus for the owner victory as if it is the last word ever. Zirin differs from most (though by no means all) only in that he falls in the latter category.

In the big picture, the players had a 57% BRI share going into this negotiation. That the players won that round in 2005 due to their shrewdness and timing, not because the arrangement was the natural order of things.

No doubt, at least some owners felt in 2005 the way Billy Hunter feels in 2011. The players lost this round, but this was not the first dispute between players and owners and won't be the last.

Bastardized?

Since Zirin's so cynical about owners, you would think he would be happy about a shortened season. Obviously we don't need to play 82 games to figure who the 16 (!) playoff teams are. So it's just about the owners milking the fans for as many dollars as they can. Sixty or even 50 games are plenty to see who the playoff-worthy teams are. As Barkley put it once, the 82-game season is basically the "pre-season" and the playoffs the real season. So the sooner we can get to the real season the better.

Boycott Everything!

Every time I run across one of thise gangster-capitalist longdickings, I simply add it to my expanding list of things to boycott.

I won't be watching any more NBA. Unlike most sports addicts, I can simply walk away. In fact, at this point, it would be much too uncomfortable to keep watching. Every second of every game, regardless of what was happening on the court, I would be thinking about how the 1% had just raped and fucked us all once again. Well, they can rape and f**k whoever is left out there that likes being raped and f**ked. But they won't see a dime of my money and their advertisers won't get a second of my attention.

basketball

They all suck and none of them should be playing in the nba anyways, i could beat all of them single handed

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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