The NBA is Dead
Long Live the NBA.
by Allen Powell II
I should be sad, but I’m not.
After all, yesterday’s decision by NBA players to reject David Stern’s latest, “final” offer is a good sign that the entire ‘11-12 season will be lost. And while NBA 2K12 is fun; it doesn’t compare to watching real life NBA stars do what they do best.
But, despite the very likely loss of an entire year of basketball, and the ugly fallout among fans, I’m quite pleased that the players refused accept the deal on the table. It was a bad deal. No one, regardless of their leanings in this dispute, has tried to argue that the deal presented by owners represented a gain or even only a small loss for players. Everyone recognizes that the deal would represent a massive restructuring of how the League operates, and that restructuring would enrich and empower owners at the expense of players. Some people think that’s a good thing, but I’m not among that number.
Years ago, I loved the NFL even more than I currently love the NBA. But, as it became clear that the owners were creating a labor system where all the power and influence resided in the hands of the few, my love waned. It became obvious that my cheers and support were the way owners kept players in line. My willingness to side with the “team” above all else, was a tool used to leverage players into increasingly horrible short term deals, even as evidence grew that just by playing a few years in the NFL their lives would be irrevocably damaged.
While NBA players don’t risk the same sort of injuries and long-term health problems that their NFL counterparts face, I find myself at a similar crossroad with this League. It is obvious the current lockout is not simply about economics, it’s also very much about power. Last summer, LeBron James and his buddies flexed their collective muscles and made the world consider what sports would be like if athletes wielded power. And most fans, owners and media members decided they didn’t like what they saw.
A League where players decided where they wanted to play, who they wanted to play with and how much they should be paid was a League that scared people. It challenged their ideas about who was smart enough to assemble teams and broker deals. It made them wonder what was coming next.
At the core of the owners’ proposals has been the idea that they should be the ones making all the decisions, period. How else can you explain that despite the fact that the players have agreed to give back roughly $280 million in revenue, the owners are still trying to implement even more draconian rules? Do most fans realize that if the League would have had 50/50 split of basketball related income last season, the owners would have made $2.4 billion total, to the players’ $1.9 billion? Those numbers put to lie David Stern’s claims that this lockout is about a financially broken system. Those numbers prove that what the owners truly believe is broken is their vice grip on power.
That’s why the owners want a very punitive luxury tax and reduced rights under free agency. They want to be certain that when they draft a superstar, they can delay paying him market value for as long as possible and possibly in perpetuity. They don’t want the ability to compete with each other for players because they know that competition will only benefit players. They want reduced markets for players’ services so they can put “take it or leave it” offers on the table and force players to decide between being underpaid and not being paid at all. The League doesn’t want players to be able to demand that general managers make prudent decisions or risk their defection to another locale. They want players who are resigned to their faith, and only allowed to change teams when the teams decide a change makes sense.
That is why I’m happy NBA players decided to reject this last deal and pursue a potential court challenge. The NBA owners are not seeking concessions that benefit the League as a whole; they are seeking a deal that soothes their egos and wallets.
While players are not guaranteed success in court, what they have proven is that they will not accept any deal just because they are told that’s the best they can expect. They are demanding to be allowed a seat at the table as equals because they are not simply employees, they are partners. If that means I don’t get to watch basketball right now then that’s fine. At least when the League finally does come back I won’t feel that my cheers are the foundation for a system I despise.