So it’s lockout time once again, this time with the NBA. We have the reports of the two sides being miles apart, the owners threatening to shut down an entire season, and both sides saying that they desperately want to make a deal. And we have the media hashing the whole thing, excruciating detail by excruciating detail. We have different factions of owners, those who want to spend whatever it takes to win and those who wish to do the opposite. One big difference is that the threats of canceling the season seem to be real; the NBA had a short season back in 1999 so there is a precedent that can be adhered to.
Six owners also own hockey teams, so they are familiar with the concept of closing down a whole season in order to get what they want. I never doubted for one minute that we’d get a full NFL season, and I still don’t. I don’t have the same confidence about the NBA. The NFL is a unique entity in that they have a much smaller number of games, in venues that are not as conducive to other events (there are only so many U2 concerts and college football games that you can hold) as basketball arenas. The owners need those ten home dates every bit as much as the players need their sixteen game checks, so there’s major incentive to settle. Basketball owners who have a financial stake in the arena have many more opportunities to make money from their building, so their nest will still be feathered even if there is no season in 2011-12.
Now there is one way in which the NBA owners are just like the NFL owners; both groups are chock full of reckless and greedy individuals who are looking for the players to save them from themselves and the stupid decisions they make. A hot talking point on the NBA situation is that the salaries of the top players are not a problem, but that there are way too many mediocre players (and good but not great ones) making $7 to $10 million a season. OK great, I don’t disagree with that. We’ve all seen the salaries of the Mike Millers and Brian Cardinals and Rashard Lewises of the world, and we know that they don’t match up with the numbers they’re putting on the stat sheets. No need to rehash that here. But who gave out those contracts? Did the players or their agents walk into the owners offices Suge Knight-style and force them to sign these deals?
No, they didn’t. And a large portion of these deals were signed by owners that we bidding against themselves. Think about those names I just mentioned; there wasn’t any real bidding war for those guys. What happens is that a team decides that player X would be a good addition to their team, then they offer him more than market value so there is no bidding war. That’s how you get Brian Cardinal making $7 million a year.
The other thing to remember is that the owners aren’t the most honest bunch of people here. Deadspin had a story up this week showing how the New Jersey Nets were able to make a $7 million profit look like a $28 million loss. Think about that for a minute. David Stern and the owners want us to believe that 22 teams are losing money, while the players say the number is closer to 10. Given the Nets example, it’s not unreasonable to believe that other teams are using creative accounting (not illegal, by the way) to make their balance sheets look worse than they really are.
What they are showing to the players (and the IRS) is not what is really going on. Again, I’m not accusing them of any crime; as far as we know it’s all legal. But think about this: how can anyone in that dire of financial straits even contemplate paying out the kind of salaries that NBA teams do? If you are the GM of team X, and you’re really losing $20 million plus a year, are you really going to go to your owner and say ‘hey boss, we really need to give $100 million-plus to a guy who scores 18 points a game and has no drawing power?’ Of course not. Don’t believe the hype here.
So once again, aim your ire at the owners, not the players. This is not about how many Maybachs some benchwarmer has in his driveway, or how much you can’t stand Lebron because of the Decision, or how often some guy who puts up empty numbers on a bad team but can’t really play spends every night at the club. The owners are crying poor, and are doing so disingenuously. This isn’t much different than what’s going on in the political arena; the people at the top are insisting that whatever mess we’re in needs to be fixed on the back of everyone else. The owners want their profligate spending, be it on bad contracts or other bad business ventures, to be reined by by limiting player salaries. Don’t fall for the okey doke, people. This is about control and greed on the part of the owners, no more and no less.