Tuesday, August 9, 2011

On This Day, August 9th: NBA Lockout Day 40 & To Hell With The Game



L.C. Johnson's fingers must have been hurting after pulling double duty. He did two large articles on what the new NBA could do to better itself, and analyzing what the other major professional sports leagues have done. Of course Shaquille O'Neal gets referenced when it comes to franchise players.

However, this is the article you definitely want to read:

Chances are, the wealthiest professional athletes and shrewdest sports business owners can think back to a time when the game meant more than their financial portfolios.

Fun and games easily are replaced by greed and ego once dollars start exchanging hands. Then grown men who participate in child's play for a living are quick to pick up their ball and run home in protest whenever a financial conflict arises.

To hell with the game. Show me the money.

In what might have been his final NBA season, Michael Jordan won his 10th scoring title, swept the MVP awards (All-Star Game, regular season, postseason) and led the Bulls to a sixth championship this decade. Not long after Jordan's storybook ending, the owners added a footnote of reality to the tale by imposing a lockout that has suspended league operations indefinitely.

The chances that the dispute will be resolved quickly look bleak, given that the owners on Thursday walked out of the first negotiating session in 45 days.

A previous NBA lockout three summers ago lasted 80 days - amid the players' threat to decertify the union - before a 6-year deal was hammered out. However, the agreement allowed the owners to reopen negotiations after three years if player salaries surpassed 51.8 percent of basketball-related income, or BRI.

BRI includes network broadcasting revenue, ticket sales, luxury boxes, signage (arena advertising) and merchandising. Last season, player salaries consumed almost 58 percent of that income, although players insist the owners are using creative bookkeeping.

For example, the NBA says 13 clubs lost money last season; the players contend the number is closer to four. Semantics aside, the NBA owners have let it be known they have no intention of being strong-armed into a less-than-favorable agreement.

So far, the NBA is the only major professional sports league never to have canceled games because of labor problems. However, that streak is in jeopardy for the 1998-99 season.

Basket case

The NBA is no different than the other major pro sports. Despite the lessons to be learned from past labor disputes in baseball, football and hockey, the NBA seems destined to follow in their wayward footsteps. Same problems. Different uniforms. Everyone loses.

``It's something we have managed thus far to avoid ...,'' NBA Commissioner David Stern has said of the possibility of missing games. ``But if you don't face up to reality, then you can't have an intelligent negotiation.''

In reality, the NBA has grown into almost a $2 billion-a-year industry. Yet, players and owners can't agree on how to divide the jackpot. Not surprisingly, much of the controversy centers around salary caps, free agency - particularly with regard to the Larry Bird exception, a loophole that allows teams to pay their own free agents any amount without salary-cap restrictions - and revenue sharing for teams losing money.

``Enough is enough,'' said forward Horace Grant, who was the highest paid player on the Orlando Magic last season at $14.3 million. ``The players are making enough money, and the owners are making enough money as well. There has to be some way to work this out.''

Signs indicate it is getting out of hand. The Minnesota Timberwolves, fearful of losing 22-year-old forward Kevin Garnett to free agency, will pay him $126 million for the next six seasons. To put that number in perspective, consider the New Jersey Nets were recently sold to a group of investors for $150 million. But if professional sports has proved anything, it's that simple math does not always apply.

Not long ago, Glenn Robinson, college basketball's Player of the Year from Purdue, sought the first $100 million contract after being selected by the Milwaukee Bucks as the No. 1 pick in the '94 draft. During a particularly tense part of the negotiations, Bucks owner Herb Kohl quipped: ``Why don't I just sell [Robinson) the team and have him give me $100 million?''

Robinson finally settled on a 10-year, $68 million deal, which proved to be the last financial straw for a lot of reasons. The owners, along with rank-and-file NBA players, agreed rookie salaries had to be curtailed. If anyone deserved to get the big bucks, they surmised, it should be the established players who have helped keep the league prosperous.

The rookie three-year salary scale was adopted for the '95 season. This system gives rookies minimum and maximum salaries based on the spot they were taken in the draft. For example, last season's No. 1 pick, Tim Duncan, the eventual Rookie of the Year, signed a 3-year, $9 million deal.

Yet, the labor problems regarding rookies have come full circle. The three-year plan allows players to become free agents too soon, given the influx of high schoolers and younger college players to the league.

That's just the first of 3 very well thought-out pages. 

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