"Show me the money", or in the union's case, 'show us the money'. That's what the owners have and continue to do with their better players. It was an issue 13 years ago, and it's probably worse now where owners are vastly overpaying for free agents. It eventually got completely out of hand and that's a big reason why both sides are at the standoff today. You'll see some very interesting contracts being displayed as examples in this article. Note the Billy Hunter and Rich DeVos quotes. This is a huge piece and I've only posted half of it here.
One thing is clear regarding the NBA lockout: The labor impasse is not about the 411 players who make up the National Basketball Players Association. It's about a pool of 25 to 30 marquee players who have Commissioner David Stern and the league's 29 owners worried.
Why? Because the NBA salary structure has turned into a rerun of Let's Make a Deal. Each new deal for a superstar has to surpass the deal of the previous star. All it takes is for one maverick owner to overpay a player, and the pay scale spirals out of whack.
The result? Average-to-good players increasingly have been overpaid: Boston's Travis Knight (seven years, $22 million); Indiana's Dale Davis (seven years, $42 million); Vancouver's Bryant Reeves (six years, $65 million); and Portland's Rasheed Wallace (six years, $80 million). Consequently, an elite group of players have emerged with salaries that place them in the $100 million category.
Assuming there are 30 players who might seek admission to that exclusive $100 million club based on talent, don't think that the 31st player and on down doesn't think he eventually will belong there.
Yet, the NBA remains a player-driven league. Fans flock to see the players, particularly the stars, on television and in arenas. The fact that owners willingly have paid handsome salaries to select players should be proof that the league is healthy enough to withstand such a financial burden.
``The star players are the reason why the league has been so successful,'' Orlando Magic guard Penny Hardaway said. ``Let's face it, fans in Utah don't go to the games to see Bryon Russell and Shandon Anderson play. They come to see Karl Malone and John Stockton. ...
``If the owners don't think we're that important to the league, I would like to see them take all of the star players out of the league and have the other guys play. See how much interest they draw then.''
This explains why the league's attempt to cap the high-end salaries is met with skepticism by NBPA Executive Director Billy Hunter and his high-profile constituents, including Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning.
Those stars, along with up-and-coming stars such as Stephon Marbury and Allen Iverson, all of whom are represented by David Falk, have fueled speculation that agents may be sabotaging any deal for fear that it will take commission from their pockets.
``We believe, with good reason, that the agents of the players who would be most affected by the high-end [salary) location have begun a campaign to defeat any fair deal,'' Stern said last week. ``Their view is that no matter how good the deal may be for 400 players, it won't be allowed to fly if the top 30 can't have the ability to receive unlimited amounts.''
Falk scoffs at the idea of him orchestrating any behind-the-scenes manipulating on his part: ``I'm flattered that they think I'm running the [players) union,'' adding that this was merely a ploy for Stern to try to ``tactically divide us - the agents from the players, the high-salaried players from the middle class.''
Last season, NBA players collectively earned almost $1 billion in salaries, which represented better than 57 percent of all basketball-related income. Stern insists the league won't operate under the conditions of the past three seasons, which explains why training camp, the exhibition season and the first month of the regular season are all casualties.
But Hunter is adamant about protecting the interests of his union. After a particularly terse negotiating session Friday, he stated emphatically: ``We're not going to take a bad deal. If it means we don't play untilJanuary or February, that's what it means.''
As they strive to gain more cost certainty in the league, more than half of the 29 owners are said to have lost money during the 1997-98 season. As Magic bil- lionaire owner and Amway founder Rick DeVos points out, that is no way to run a business.
``Assuming your team is worth $100 million, you ought be able to make at least 10 percent back on your money, 5 percent after taxes,'' DeVos says. ``You can put it in the bank and get that. So why shouldn't we be able to get the same return [while owning an NBA team)?''
Owners are quick to point to the Larry Bird exception, named after the Boston Celtics Hall of Famer, as being a root of the economic evils, which is not entirely true. The Bird exception is a measure that allows teams to pay their own free agents any dollar amount without salary-cap restrictions. It was set up so that star players such as Bird, Magic Johnson or Jordan would have a better chance of staying with one club.
What has happened, some argue, is that the spirit of the Bird rule has been abused.
Exhibit A is 22-year-old forward Kevin Garnett of the Minnesota Timberwolves, who signed a seven-year, $126 million contract extension last season. He has been in the league only three years, yet he's a member of the $100 million club.