Category Archives: NBA Lockout

The 51%ers

NBA players are starting to grow weary of the lockout, as if the only people left in the room that don’t understand that the end of the game has already been decided are Billy Hunter and the mega agents keeping him in power.  Everyone else has already seen the writing on the wall.  As much as I wanted the players to win, they can’t.  They don’t have the unity, the sophistication, the marketing, the messaging or the power to take on 30 owners, at least 16 of whom are bull headed enough to watch the whole house burn instead of putting out the fire in the basement.

The superstars are doing the right thing and keeping their mouths shut in public.  Any whining from uber-millionaires is callous at best and downright infuriating to the NBA’s mid-level guys at worst.  But now something that Billy Hunter can’t control is happening: those mid-level guys going to Twitter and demanding a deal.  Guys like Glen Davis and Samardo Samuels, maybe you’ve never heard of them but these are the guys that are driving the discontent.  Its THEIR money that is being siphoned into owners’ pockets.  Superstars will get paid, minimum guys will get their minimum, but mid-level guys will be paid less money in this CBA than the last two.  Maybe that’s not such a bad thing, at least that’s what the owners will have you believe.  Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher have been screaming for months, however, that these are the guys that they can’t abandon.  Unfortunately, those guys are the ones now saying that they’ve never been represented.  These are the 51%ers, who would much rather take a 51/49 deal that is not at all fair then take a 49-51 deal in January that is even less fair.

While Jason Whitlock was stupefyingly putting Derek Fisher in the headlights as the guy that is abandoning the union, it is so clearly Billy Hunter who is on the wrong side of the fence.  Fisher’s constituency is the 51%ers, Hunter’s is the super agents that have been driving hard-line bargaining with owners for decades.  Now Fisher’s guys have woken up.  They want a deal.  They know its over.  Its time for the NBPA to accept their losses and play ball.

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We’re all being duped: Revenue sharing is the 800 lb. gorilla.

I am guilty of sensationalism over the NBA lockout as much as anyone, but there has been a little voice in the back of my head that’s saying over and over and over again that the dots don’t connect, and there MUST be something else going on.  My suspicions were confirmed this morning when word leaked that team and league officials had a video conference over revenue sharing.  Makes sense right?  That the revenue sharing piece of the puzzle that Adam Silver emphatically exclaimed does not affect collective bargaining and is guaranteed to come to $150 million over the next three years is still being talked about?

This same issue came out when the last round of talks blew up before the first two weeks of the season were canceled.  Revenue sharing was a little blip that David Stern talked about when canceling the first two weeks, but he assured us it would be taken care of shortly, so the negotiations only had to focus on BRI and system.  Two weeks later the BRI split was essentially solved, somewhere in the 50-52 range, probably a band with those numbers.  Next up is system, and if you read a previous article here you can see how the owners’ system arguments are B.S.  So really, the last piece of the puzzle is, you guessed it, revenue sharing.

Reports today indicate that the owners are no closer to figuring out revenue sharing as they have been the last three years.  Instead of starting a big-media market vs. small-media market fan war over revenue sharing, its easier to point the entire arsenal at the players and say that they don’t want competitive balance, and they don’t want to agree on growing the  league.  Word came out after last week’s failed talks that just hours before Silver claimed that revenue sharing was solved, several owners had deep misgivings about Wyc Grousbeck’s (Boston Celtics) plan to save the small market teams.  No one was convinced.  Sound familiar?  Same thing happened in the NFL, then they had a lockout, then they solved revenue sharing, and then everything fell into place.

Don’t believe the hype coming from anywhere.  There is no way that Billy Hunter is stupid enough not to understand that this is happening, but its not in his best interest to expose it either.  The players aren’t part of this discussion, all they can do is keep on hammering the owners so when they finally do get around to fixing revenue sharing, the players won’t get absolutely rolled on the system and BRI split.  It actually looks like its working, and when the owners figure out a way to share the $4.5 billion pie, whenever that may be, then this nightmare will all (for god’s sake hopefully will) finally end.

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Two Things the Players Union Must Do to Win the Public Over

I hate the NBA lockout.  I really do.  I want nothing more than for the lockout to end.  But I know how supremely unfair the owners are being so I want the players to win.  Maybe its the climate of the country right now.  The little guy has been getting shit on over and over and over again, and yeah the players are millionaires, but the analogy holds true: those in power want to crush those that don’t have any.  Occupy NBA Headquarters here I come.

 

For all of the desire I have for the players to get their due, the reality is their leadership is completely fucking up their chance to win over the public for the first time in a major sports league negotiation.  The world used to be employer friendly, and the players were making so much money that people were actually siding with employers that made 1000x more money than the players did, and largely from businesses that were much bigger and more powerful than their NBA squads.  Nevertheless, the public sided with the owners.  Here are two ways to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

 

1. Make it known that the “blood issue” at play is about protecting the middle class.

 

As a Lakers fan I really, truly hate Kevin Garnett.  But as a union leader, he has been the man.  The NBPA knew that the previous two CBAs were far too weighted in the players favor, it was only a matter of time before the owners would demand that balance  was restored.  So when the NBPA moved down 4 percentage points to 53, KG had enough of the owners’ talk about sacrifice.  The NBPA had sacrificed, and had gotten nothing back in return, but it wasn’t enough for the owners, they wanted more, and they started spinning bullshit out of their mouths faster than a warplane talking about how the system and the economics were out of whack.

 

The owners argument is basically that the star players drive the league, so the salary cap and economics should be adjusted so star players are paid their fair due, and the middle and lower class players in the NBA get the shorter and lower dollar contracts that they deserve.  In one strong, unified voice, the NBPA, led by KG and Kobe, told the owners to go fuck themselves.  They weren’t going to sell the middle class down the river to make a few more dollars from themselves.

 

The NBPA needs to make this clear.  The star players are the ones holding up the deal, saying that they don’t need more money.  They get money from endorsement contracts and appearance fees off the court.  Their yearly salary does not need to increase.  Protecting the middle class is an American story.  Its one every person can identify with, and if the players make it known that the employers are trying to shut out the middle class to make the NBA’s top 1% of players richer, and the other 99% poorer, its an immediately relatable narrative.  Its inexcusable that Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher aren’t on TV everyday reminding the national media about this point.

 

2. Make it known that the state of the national economy that has driven down league revenues has been largely precipitated by the owners themselves

 

I could list the ten or eleven owners that have businesses directly connected with taking advantage of the situation in Washington, D.C., paying off politicians and taking tax breaks to make themselves richer and everyone else poorer.  But I only have to point to the ring-leader of the small-market band of owners threatening to blow up the NBA season: Dan fucking Gilbert.  This asshole was at the center of the sub-prime mortgage debacle, handing out mortgages to people who couldn’t afford them, repackaging them, sending them overseas, and then betting against them knowing that the people that had those mortgages had no chance of paying them.  This guy is a dick, and he should be public enemy number 1 from the players.  If the owners are going to turn their situation into another casualty of the the Great Recession, then it should be known that the owners had a large part in the Great Recession happening.  No one should get a free pass for fucking over the entire world, and certainly not an owner who is now hellbent on fucking up the entire NBA too.  Billy Hunter, you have to make it known that enough is enough.

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Billy Hunter Should Call the Owners’ Bluff and Take the Deal

Something just didn’t feel right when David Stern emerged from the negotiating room claiming that systemic issues were the major impediment to getting a deal.  Clearly the players were willing to move on economic issues to preserve the system, something the league didn’t anticipate.  So in a move that would make Eric Cantor proud, the owners did a bait and switch and claimed nirvana on the economic issue and too-big-to-bridge on the systemic issues.  To summarize Stern, he claims that a tougher luxury tax/hard cap, shorter contracts, and higher max contracts will keep the NBA competitive, or as Adam Silver put it, give all 30 teams a chance to win a championship.

The crux of the argument is that small market teams are incapable of spending over the luxury tax in the same way as large market teams, which results in lower competitive balance and less ability to win a ring.  I won’t go too far into the absurdity of those economics (you can read all about that in The New York Times).  One part of the story is somewhat true.  Here’s a look at the teams over the luxury tax threshold ($70 million) the past three seasons (all info from The Hoop Doctors):

2010-2011

Lakers (95.3)
Magic (89.9)
Mavericks (85.8)
Celtics (83.3)
Nuggets (83)
Rockets (72.7)
Jazz (71.1)

2009-2010

Lakers (91.4)
Jazz (84.7)
Celtics (82.2)
Cavs (79.9)
Spurs (78.3)
Magic (77.9)
Wizards (77.8)
Mavericks (75.5)
Rockets (74.2)
Hornets (73.8)
Heat (73.1)
Knicks (72.9)

2008-2009

Knicks (100)
Cavs (90.1)
Mavericks (86)
Trailblazers (81.6)
Celtics (80.3)
Lakers (78.9)
Suns (74.5)
Rockets (73.5)
Bulls (72)
Pistons (71)
Pacers (70)

While I do see the perennial offenders on the list (Lakers, Celtics, Mavs and Knicks), what I also see are the Jazz on the list twice, with the Nuggets, Pacers, Cavs, and Magic also making appearances.  Small market teams are able to spend money, its just that some teams spend it poorly, and it has nothing to do with the size of the market.  For instance, the Knicks and the Cavs blew a combined 190 million dollars on largely terrible contracts (except Lebron and Amare), while the Celtics and Lakers spent a combined 40 million dollars less and ended up battling in the NBA finals.  So yes money CAN help, but its not an indicator of success, its more an indicator of bad management.

But David Stern disagrees (or so he says); he believes that because the last 5 championship teams have come from large markets or teams that have spent over the luxury tax threshold that the system is keeping small market or more savings conscious teams from winning rings.  Here is a list of the last ten NBA finals matchups:

2000: Lakers vs. Pacers (9.85)
2001: Lakers vs. 76ers (12.12)
2002: Lakers vs. Nets (10.12)
2003: Spurs vs. Nets (6.48)
2004: Lakers vs. Pistons (11.5)
2005: Spurs v. Cavs (8.22)
2006: Mavs v. Heat (8.45)
2007: Spurs v. Pistons (3.23)
2008: Lakers v. Celtics (9.33)
2009: Lakers v. Magic (8.4)
2010: Lakers v. Celtics (10.58)
2011: Mavs v. Heat (10.18)

Of the 20 teams participating, only four can be considered “large market” (Lakers, 76ers, Mavs, Celtics).  Everyone else comes from the so called “small market,” and only the Spurs of 2007 had to spend over the luxury tax to get there.  What more can a system offer for competitive balance than the ability for a small market team to make it to the Finals.  Why does the system have to be turned on its head to get those teams over the hump?  Once you’re in the Finals payroll doesn’t matter.  You got there now you have to close the deal.

Oh by the way, those numbers in parenthesis?  Those are the average tv viewership for all of the finals.  Notice anything?  People don’t CARE about small market teams.  The lowest rated finals by far was between two relatively small market teams.  And hell, the most talked about NBA finals in the last 20 years (Mavs v. Heat) was still beaten in the ratings by Game 7 of the 2010 finals (15.6 vs. 13.6 for Game 6 of 2011) and in overall average (10.5 vs. 10.2).  Large markets drive viewership and the NBA.  In the NFL you can count on every American wanting to watch football.  In the NBA you can’t do that, so you have to make sure your large market teams are doing well and winning, to get as many eyeballs as possible in front of the television.  What do you think ESPN thinks about taking viewers away from Los Angeles and putting them in Sacramento?  It makes no fiscal sense.

So the players ceded on the question of money, and the owners pulled the rug from under the NBPA and said that it was never about money, it was about competitive balance.  But things like revenue sharing and total league revenues get dumped on if small market teams keep on showing up in the NBA finals.  The NBA’s worst nightmare is another 2007, where the finals only drew an average of 3.22 million viewers.

Obviously the owners are not serious about the system issue, or the economic issue, or any issue really.  What they really want to do is break the union.  So Billy Hunter should do the one thing that the owners don’t really want: accept the deal.  If the owners have any type of self-preservation they would have to reject it, and would look like complete tools doing so.  This is all really about revenue sharing, and the system that Stern and Silver are proposing actually hurts future revenue sharing by making the league less valuable.  The owners would have to reject their own deal, and the players would finally have buried their own body in the NBA: David Stern’s.

 

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How Social Media Will Eviscerate the Owners

There is no more optimism here.  With two weeks of the season easily canceled on non-issues such as the size of the luxury tax and the length of mid-level exception contracts, I now understand that the small-market/hawk owners weren’t just a small voice in the room, they were the room, and they forced David Stern into his second work stoppage in the last three tries.  The utterly perplexing, idiotic, stupefying decision by the NBA to irrevocably damage the reputation of the league (again) is beyond reproach, and right now I don’t have the energy or the will power to dissect an argument that obviously makes no sense.  As dear Alfred put it, “some men just want to watch the world burn.”  So here we are, the likelihood of a season starting on time now at 0%, and the likelihood of having a season at all dropping more and more by the minute.  But there is one silver lining that puts a smile on my face: the owners will eat this decision for decades to come.  Why? Twitter.

A few months ago my roommate introduced me to the world of 140 character status updates.  At least that’s what I thought of the service before I tried it.  A glorified circle-jerk of people putting up Facebook statuses in realtime.  But my opinion changed quickly.  A global trend could influence the viewpoints of hundreds of millions of people, all within the time it takes to refresh your twitter feed.  Instantly the middle man became obsolete.   Suddenly the amount of followers a person has is the currency that matters, not zeroes on the end of a paycheck.  While famous people are popular, so are those that took to the service early from their basements, gained a massive following, and now show up on the twitter feeds of thousands, or even millions, without the help of “professionals” whose job it was to spin and manipulate the facts until the “truth” was whatever they wanted it to be.

The PR people of 1998 (when the last lockout occurred) are akin to Best Buy in an Amazon world, or AOL in the time of Verizion FIOS.  With players now able to speak their mind uninterrupted, the fans have unprecedented access to the league’s players, from Kevin Durant (@KDTrey5) to Jared Dudley (@jdudley619).  While the NBA has imposed draconian gag orders on its teams from discussing the lockout, NBA players have been taking to twitter, defending their position to fans, getting “mainstream” press coverage from their interactions, and slowly turning minds that were against them and building up confidence in those that already supported them.  While Steve Nash (@stevenash) and Derek Fisher (@derekfisher) have been communicating directly with fans, getting fans to understand that a union is a union if the workers are playing basketball or building cars, the NBA has been keeping their greatest weapons on the sidelines.  Mark Cuban (@mcuban) can’t say a word, but his players can eviscerate the league’s position and build up their own following without any type of repercussions from the league.

Granted, some players are just in it to build their brand (looking at you @RealLamarOdom), but many others are taking to Derek Fisher’s call to #StandUnited, and the outcome will only be viewed as utterly disastrous for the owners when they look back at the fallout from this lockout.  Sure, if you look at traditional venues for fan speak, such as Yahoo! Sports’ comments sections, you’ll see less love for the players.  But the people that the NBA cares about aren’t on Yahoo! and ESPN message boards, they are on twitter, tweeting at @StephenCurry30 to give them a good morning tweet or retweeting the #StandUnited tweets from @KingJames.  The future of the ticket-paying NBA fan base is literally speaking to the greatest basketball players in the world, and as history has repeatedly shown, those that connect most with the people will win the people’s hearts and minds.

The owners are banking on a backlash against the players a la 1998-1999, where the working man couldn’t understand how millionaire basketball players could complain about their paychecks.  But the world has changed dramatically in the last 13 years, in no small part due to the reckless actions of NBA owners and their kin outside of the game of basketball.  The uber-rich are no longer the toast of the town.  People are tired of the richest squashing on everyone else like bugs, and to display their distaste of such draconian tactics the world is putting its displeasure on display on none other than Twitter (#occupywallst anyone?).

I don’t want to lose a whole season.  I hate the idea of not being able to watch the Lakers crush through the regular season and fight their way back to the top.  But I hate even more the idea that the NBA owners are counting on me, a fan who regularly pays way more than I should to watch an NBA game, to turn against the players that are doing their best to connect with me, to get a deal done so they can get back on the court so they can pay their bills and play the game they love.  I’m not going to do it.  You can retweet me on that.

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The Untold Sacrifice

Yesterday I railed against the NBA for throwing the fans under the bus.  Today, I remind everyone that in these times, the people who really get fucked are those that rely on the NBA for the income to survive.  Tom Withers of the AP recently posted an article on the situation:

Ushers, security personnel, parking lot attendants, concession workers, restaurant employees and others all stand to have their hours cut or join the country’s 14 million unemployed.

“Yeah, financially, I’m worried,” said waitress Jeannette Lauersdorf, a single mother of two, who on a quiet Wednesday afternoon is serving six guests at three tables inside Harry Buffalo. On a night the Cavs are playing, the place has a 30-minute wait for a table. “We’ve got bills to pay.”

For all of the hoopla from D Fish, Billy Hunter, Stern, KG, Kobe, Amare, whoever, about unity and sticking to principals, these ass clowns are completely throwing low to middle income workers inside and outside of arenas completely under the bus.  This isn’t about politics or economics, these are real people that rely on the NBA playing games to survive.

Of course, the NBA has a different version of this story: fans pay for tickets and watch games on TV, and the NBA is supposed to return the favor by displaying the best product in the world.  What the NBA won’t talk about are the massive tax rebates and public funding that several cities across the country have ponied up for the hope of job creation and a stable economic linchpin in their downtowns, particularly in small market cities.  How big of a commitment has the public poured into stadiums?  5 billion dollars… since 2000.  The NBA only exists in the amount of markets it exists in because it made a promise to those cities to be profit centers and job creators.  Now the league is breaking that promise, and in the worse of all possible economic situations.  People can’t handle any more heartbreak.  We turn to sports to be free of all of the bullshit, corruption and greed that permeates throughout all of the world right now.  Instead, we are just treated to more of it, and in the worst possible way.

The egregiousness of this situation is beyond contempt, but the utter lack of accountability on the part of the NBA is even more reprehensible.  Unfortunately the only solution for us is to say “stop watching basketball.”  But I can’t stop watching basketball.  I love basketball.  I love the Lakers.  But I hate everything about everyone that talks about standing up for their rights in this situation.  I’m ok with millionaires vs. billionaires.  I’m not ok with (millionaires vs. billionaires) vs. minimum wage workers.  Mr. Stern, the responsibility is on you to refocus this fight where it matters.  Families don’t deserve to be further shit on because you guys are fighting over 2.4 percentage points.

Assholes.

 

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Game of (Basketball) Thrones

In 1998, the NBA was hemorrhaging money and fans, and the owners didn’t think it was a tenable financial situation, and they were right.  MJ’s retirement sent ratings and future revenues into a tailspin, free agency was out of whack, and the product of the game was not good enough for anyone to be making money.  Accordingly, David Stern locked out the players and canceled 32 games.  For all of the hoopla about players caving when missing paychecks, the reality is that it was the owners that caved, in maybe the worst CBA ever signed by a professional sports league, ceding 57% of income to the players, and only keeping 43% for themselves.  They were terrified of losing value on their franchises and caved to the players, resulting in a payday for every single current and future player in the league.

Fast forward five years and the popularity of the NFL soared, mostly on the back of a CBA that called for a 50-50 split in income and almost equal revenue sharing, which allowed owners to spend freely to upgrade facilities, train players, and make the product of the game more enjoyable than ever to watch.  Envious of the enormous profits that the NFL was making as compared to the NBA (roughly 9 billion in the NFL vs. 4 billion in the NBA, while the NFL plays 16 games and the NBA plays 82), the owners begin to get antsy with their complete failure of a CBA robbing them of dollars, as well as any kind of fair revenue sharing among small and big market teams.  However, in 2006, the NBA had yet to see an MJ-era-like resurgence in popularity, and fearing an epic backlash, the league and the players agreed to a new CBA that pretty much mirrored the 1998 CBA, calling for a 57/43 split in income.

Fast forward five more years, and the NBA is coming off its most popular season ever.  Basketball is making the front page of newspapers and the league’s stars are again among the most popular individuals in the world, more than just athletes.  Owners feeling that they have done their part to build the game back up lock out the players, crying foul over a 57/43 split which is completely unheard of and makes no sense in the modern market.  Months into the lockout, the sides begin to talk, the players lowering their offer to 54, the owners calling for 46.  Weeks later, the owners raise their offer to 47, and the players lower theirs to 53.  The split begin as a 14 percentage point split, and after a lockout that is incredibly costly to the league’s PR image, the split is now down to 8 percentage points.  Meanwhile, the owners, stipulating that the league lost 300 million dollars, agreed to quadruple their 80 million dollar revenue sharing pie to 320 million dollars, effectively eliminating the shortfall from the previous (tv record-breaking) season.

So, as it stood at approximately 2:30 PM on Tuesday, October 4th, the league had solved the revenue sharing problem, came back from the precipice on all of their systemic demands, and now only had to modernize their income split in order to compete with other leagues, and position themselves to challenge the NFL in the new TV deal to be signed in 2016, which by all accounts should at least double the current BRI from 4 billion dollars to 8 billion dollars (while the NFL’s new tv contract rose them from 9 to the 12 billion dollar area).  Seeing that the players and owners committees were both standing pat at 53 and 47 percent respectively, David Stern and Adam Silver pull Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher aside, stipulating that the owners agree to give the players 49%, going up to 51% if the NBA beats projected revenues over the life of the CBA.  The players countered with a base of 51%, rising to 53% if the NBA beats its revenue projections.  The players reject the owners, the owners reject the players, everyone goes home gloomy and empty handed.

Long story short, the NFL, the gold standard of professional sports in this country, has a 50-50 split.  The NBA had a 57/43 split.  The NBA now offers 49%, the NBAPA offers 51%.  If this were a schoolyard, David Stern and Billy Hunter would have agreed to a 50-50 split years ago, and gone off to have an ice cream cone.  Instead, we find ourselves in a media battle, with the sides 2% points apart, and destined to reach the only spot they were ever going to reach: a 50-50 split.  The players will make more money, the owners will make more money, but yet again, as it always is, the fans get boned in the ass by being pawns in this Game of (Basketball) Thrones.

What. The. Fuck.

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