There is only so many ways of saying this lockout is going to take a long time. The NBA is out of order believe it or not. While the league may not be losing the kind of money they claim, they are certainly not in good shape.
The reasons for the lockout are pretty clear at this point: the perceived losses from many of the teams, overspending on free agents that turn out to be unworthy of the paper their contracts are written on and a desire for a system that favors them (like they thought the current system would).
When the players and owners told the world a lockout was officially happening on June 30 after negotiations failed to progress, both sides said they were eager to get back to the negotiating table and projected they would be back to bargaining within two or three weeks. There is a lot of housecleaning the owners are going to need to do before meeting with the players.
It has been two weeks, and we are still not bargaining.
Players seem more unified than ever to wait this thing out. Unlike in 1998, Darren Heitner of Sports Agent Blog and David Aldridge of NBA.com notes, most of the players on the executive committee are “middle-class players.” Aldridge argued that the one thing Billy Hunter has done in the last 10 years is neuter the power of the super agents who helped establish a system that led to the 50-game season of 1999. Heitner argues that may not be so, but there is no doubt the composition of the players is much different than 1998.
Their threat now to go overseas is either a legitimate call that the players just want to work and play the game they love or a big bargaining chip to push the owners back to the bargaining table. Remember, the NBPA still has its unfair labor practices charge at the National Labor Relations Board.
You would hope owners are watching all this and measuring themselves. David Stern constantly says the league cannot revenue share itself to profitability, but it is clear the owners have to get themselves in order on the subject of revenue sharing before moving any farther. The players are not going to concede anything on their end that will do this for them.
Really, the future of the NBA is at stake. Right now fans and non-basketball staff are suffering (the Bobcats just announced they were laying off their radio play-by-play broadcaster in anticipation of the lockout).
It is going to be difficult to find any easy answers in this. And we are really just beginning.
Bill Simmons of Grantland did a good (and Bill Simmons-y) breakdown of the problems the NBA faces and outlines some easy ways out to solve the league’s major issues.
“The league needs to decide — fundamentally, right now, this month — where it’s going these next 10 years before figuring out anything else,” Simmons writes. “Mention contraction to any league official and they shudder. We can’t do that, we can’t lose those jobs. BUT YOU CAN CANCEL A SEASON??? What???? How does that make sense? You don’t think we’re going to lose jobs during a one-year lockout … not to mention fan interest and TV ratings? How dense can you be?”
He compares this lockout, after one of the most successful and talked about seasons in league history, to setting off a nuclear warhead without trying less drastic attacking tactics. That might be oversimplifying the problem (as Simmons is oft to do but it might be necessary considering how complex some of these issues are).
Ultimately he says the owners have to figure out how to make revenue sharing work and make their league profitable. It comes down to the owners figuring out a way to restrain themselves by trying to get shorter contracts and even, as Simmons suggests, instituting a way to give true superstar players a bigger share of the pie — because in no other league does having the best player on the court/field matter more.
As it has been for a while now, the ball is in the owner’s court.
The players have shown a willingness to make concessions. And of course they are interested in maintaining as much of the current system as possible. It has worked well for them.
The owners have to figure out exactly what it is they want for this league in the future. What is the league going to look like in 10 years? As Simmons suggests, it might be time for the owners to think outside the box to create revenue — that might mean advertisements are coming to jerseys. They cannot think about the league under its current system if they want the players to move forward with them.
Right now, the players are more unified than the owners. And the players are willing to sit out until the owners figure out what they want and give them something to work with. That may not be for a while and the next bargaining session could be much farther down the road than fans would like.
Photos via DayLife.com.