Can you cite Yogi Berra while talking about the NBA? Although the state of the negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement looks grim, it ain’t over… Not yet at least.
I still think that there will be a season, probably a 50 game sprint a la 1999. NBA owners and players each make nearly 2 billion dollars over the course of an NBA season. While Paul Allen has pockets deep enough to not notice his share of that booty going missing, most NBA owners don’t. And some that do, James Dolan, Micky Arison, Mark Cuban, etc., are the ones hankering to make a deal. The superstars may want to hold firm, but the rank and file of the NBA players won’t. Delonte West, who according to Basketball Reference has made more than 14 million dollars during his NBA career, is working for a moving company to make ends meet. He certainly won’t be the only one missing his paychecks bad as autumn turns to winter. Right now, there’s enough financial cushion that the negotiations are still about ego and chest thumping except it’s by men in suits not shorts.
I don’t grasp Stern’s role in the midst of this. As recently as five years ago, Stern was arguably the greatest pro sports commissioner ever. He’d taken the NBA from near fringe status (remember Magic’s rookie season and the game where he filled in at center for Abdul Jabbar and scored 42 points? That game was telecast on tape delay) to a sport whose international popularity is second only to soccer. 1999 withstanding he’s presided over a severalfold growth in league-wide revenues. Yet this lockout is a HUGE black eye that sullies 25 years of mostly good work. If 1999 is any model for comparison the NBA is going to spend a decade winning back the fans they just won back. In other words while the two sides bicker, the pie they are wrangling over is shrinking. Stern’s legacy has gone from the man who built up the popularity of the NBA to the man who built it up and then tore it down.
I have abhorred Stern’s rhetoric during the negotiations but I’m pretty sure this isn’t what he wants his legacy to be.
Anyway, the good news is that it takes forever to de-certify a union. The talks have broken down before then restarted. There have been final offers before only to have everything back on the table a week later. Talks will resume, probably a week after Thanksgiving. They’ll break down again. Then perhaps a day or two before the whole season is cancelled, an agreement will be reached that won’t look radically different from the one that was rejected this week. In terms of salient issues, both sides have been really close–I mean reallyclose–since late June, but the contentious rhetoric has kept them from splitting the difference on the remaining issues and moving forward.
Today is the first paycheck that the players will have lost. According to ESPN, each player on average punted 220K today. There are 450 NBA players and 30 owners. If we’re splitting the pie 50/50 then that means every owner lost fifteen times that much today. That’s 3.3 mil. Every two weeks that’s another 3.3. mil that they owners have punted. As of today, with games now cancelled through December 15, each side has lost more by continuing the lockout than they would have lost by taking the other side’s final proposal. With each passing fortnight, the losses will mount in frightening multiples. The essential problem with the negotiations has been that rationality left the building a long time ago. Yet financial urgency and necessity has a funny way to trumping ego and brashness almost every time.