November, 2011: The NBA – What a Mess
Ever since the 2010-11 season ended back in June, the NBA owners and players have been battling back and forth to hatch out some sort of labor / management agreement. This agreement, called a CBA (collective bargaining agreement), allows the sport to run fairly smoothly for a number of years – until the contract expires.
A CBA, by the way, is not unique to basketball. All of the big-time professional sports (NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL) have one.
Progress, throughout the summer and fall, towards an agreement has been hampered by considerable acrimony. The owners claim they are losing tons of money. The players claim the owners are trying to cheat them out of tons of money.
Compromise after compromise has been proposed and rejected, by both players and owners. Finally, on Monday, November 14, 2011, the players resoundingly rejected what was supposedly the owners’ final offer. Alas and alack, the 2011–12 basketball season is apparently doomed.
Tens of basketball fans are saying, “Oh, no.” Tens of others are saying “Good riddance.” Tens of others are saying, “If I can’t go to games, how in the world am I going to get good ideas for tattoos?”
Before trying to figure out who are the good guys and who are the bad guys, let me state and then prove that professional basketball is a mess. A BIG mess.
Statement: Professional basketball is a BIG mess.
(1) There are 30 teams in all in the NBA, split into 6 divisions of 5 teams each. I bet even serious NBA fans would have trouble naming even 15 of these teams.
(2) Year after year, most of these teams have no prayer of winning a championship. Most of these teams, in fact, have no prayer of even getting into the playoffs, which is really saying something, because the NBA makes it very hard to NOT make the playoffs. Sixteen of the 30 teams, some with overall losing records go to the playoffs.
(3) The perennially mediocre and bad teams are in small markets and just can’t compete money-wise with big-market teams. Teams like the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat have loads of money and can buy top-tier players. Teams like Toronto and Milwaukee can not and have to compete with second-tier talent.
(4) Owners, through their colossal greed and stupidity, have thrown away so much money, it boggles the mind. No better example exists than the $120 million long-term contract possessed by Joe Johnson of the Atlanta Hawks. He is a good player and that’s it. He is not a great player and certainly not a franchise player. What the hell were the Hawks’ owners thinking?
(5) Teams constantly make incredibly bad decisions. No better example exists than the Boston Celtics trade prior to the 2011 playoffs of their starting center Kendrick Perkins. Perkins was a big body and a proven reliable center. In fact, the only reason Boston failed to win the 2010 NBA championship against the LA Lakers was that Perkins was injured in Game 6 and couldn’t play Game 7.
Management justified the trade by saying the former superstar Shaquille O’Neal would take over at center. Good thinking. Except for one little detail. Shaq hadn’t played ten minutes total in the previous two years. His legs, like those of so many big men, had long ago given out. Sure enough, in the playoffs he lasted about three minutes and was done. What in the hell were Celtics’ owners thinking?
(6) Lebron James showed up. Despite having zero championships on his resume, James became the sports media darling and was proclaimed the ‘greatest player who ever lived,’ thereby replacing Michael Jordan as the ‘greatest player who ever lived.’ This was a strange accolade bestowed on a man who had never won an NBA championship. Michael Jordan has won six.
Funny thing happened though to Lebron on the way to demonstrating his unsurpassed greatness: In Games 6 and 7 against the Boston Celtics in the 2010 Eastern Conference Championships, James sort of disappeared. He dribbled the ball to midcourt, passed it off and became a spectator. Perhaps he was already planning his exit from Cleveland and didn’t want to jeopardize it by winning a championship.
Then, in an amazing mid-summer TV special, with the entire sports world watching in fascination, James announced, “I’m taking my talents to Miami.” Which he did. He forecast that he would immediately win the first of 7 NBA championships. Which he didn’t. In fact, against Dallas in the finals, he repeated the same mysterious disappearing act as before.
I never saw Michael Jordan disappear from a basketball game in crunch time.
(7) The pros play an 82 game regular season schedule. The ultimate champion must win an additional 15 playoff games and may play as many as 26 games in doing so. That’s a third again of the season. This is ridiculous. Why does the NBA need so many playoff games? Why to generate BRI (basketball related income), of course. You need lots of dough to pay those multi-million dollar salaries.
(8) You can’t purchase a ticket to a pro game without taking out a bank loan. Turns out the major markets allow third parties to purchase all the good seats to all the good games and then resell them online for scandalous prices. A couple of years ago when my daughter was still very much interested in basketball, I ventured online to purchase a couple of tickets. To get two good seats would have cost me $400. I declined.
(9) The officiating of pro basketball is so annoying, you can hardly enjoy the game. There are virtually 360 different sets of rules – one set for each of the 360 players. The rules depend on a player’s stature in the minds of the refs. They, of course, deny it. They are full of crap.
If a bottom feeder player gets within five feet of any superstar when said superstar is shooting, it’s a foul. If a bottom feeder player gets knocked unconscious by an elite player, play goes on.
I have seen superstars pick up a loose ball at midcourt, take three strides, one dribble, three more strides and dunk. How is this possible? Midcourt to the hoop on one dribble?
The worst thing about all of this is that it is so unnecessary. The referees are actually quite capable of officiating the game fairly. They are, however, under orders from above to call the game crookedly so to please the superstars and hence to please the fans of the superstars. The fans will then continue to pay big bucks to keep coming to the games. Get it? More BRI. The owners will, of course, deny this. They are full of crap.
10) You may think none of this matters being as it’s millionaire players vs. billionaire owners. Who cares?
You should. I’ve already mentioned the outrageous ticket prices. What about the never-ending stream of commercials you must endure to watch a game on television? And the never-ending commercial plugs constantly hurled at you by the announcers? You know, basketball equivalents of stuff like MLB’s ever-annoying, “Bell South call to the bullpen.”
I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea.
Good guys vs. Bad Guys
There are no good guys here. The owners have, through greed and stupidity, totally messed this professional sport up, possibly beyond repair. The players and their agents have, through greed and more greed, finally pushed the owners to the brink.
Now, you can side with the players or side with the owners, but that isn’t productive. They are, let’s be kind, equally culpable for the damage.
So, it is only a question of what can be done, if anything, to fix the mess.
A brief, but relevant, aside: During my career as a college professor, there was the usual amount of bad feelings between the faculty and the administration – some of it petty and some of it not. To vent my disgust at these seeming slights, I came up with the following insult.
What would happen if, one day, no students came to the campus? Answer: The college would shut down. What would happen if, one day, no faculty came to the campus? Answer: The college would shut down. What would happen if, one day, no administrators came to the campus? Answer: Who would even know?
A little sarcastic perhaps? Okay, a lot sarcastic. Now here’s how it relates to the NBA.
If the owners went away, dissolving their franchises and shutting down the magnificent basketball venues, professional basketball would be over. Finished. Done With. Curtains.
If the players walked away, shredding their multi-million dollar contracts in the process, who would even notice? Within hours, the owners could raid college campuses, high school gyms and the playgrounds of New York City and find 360 damn fine players. After a couple of weeks to beef the youngsters up and get them tattooed all over their bodies, no one could tell the difference.
After all, it’s not like the current crop of pros are particularly talented. Sure they are big and strong and quick and fast, but how many of them can do anything but dribble between their legs and dunk the basketball (a feat which, by the way, is not all that stupendous when you’re 6 foot 10).
It’s also quite likely that, after they’ve frittered away all their millions taking care of their posses, many of the former pros would come back to the NBA and beg for a job. Only this time, the offer would be maybe $100,000 a year, instead of $10,000,000.
The conversation will go something like this:
Player: I want to return to the NBA.
Owner: Okay, you’re a very good player. I will gladly hire you. How does $100,000 a year sound?
Player: Say what? I was making ten million a year before the breakup.
Owner: Yes, and how much do you have left?
Owner: Well, I’m offering you $100,000 a year. Where you going to make that kind of money? McDonald’s? Wal Mart? Yellow Cab?
Player: But, it’s wrong. It’s just wrong.
Owner: You should have thought of that back in 2011 when we trying to work out a deal. You’d still be making ten million.
Here’s another problem. Up to November 14, the acrimony between players and owners seemed to be merely the usual labor / management stuff. The players, almost all of whom are black, didn’t maintain that the owners, all of whom are white (except Michael Jordan), were racists.
The reason? It wasn’t yet time to play the racism card. The players always assumed the owners would cave at some point. A very decent assumption actually, considering that owners in all professional sports have always caved in these situations.
But, this time the owners were resolute – a clear indication that many of them WERE actually losing money. On November 14, the owners gave the players an ultimatum: Take the deal or the next deal offered will be worse, much worse. The black players didn’t like the idea of an ultimatum – especially when it was coming down from the white plantation owners.
So now, there is racial stuff in the mix. The players will deny it. They are full of crap. The owners will deny it. They are full of crap.
What Needs to Happen
If professional basketball is going to continue and prosper, it needs to be completely restructured.
(1) A hard cap (i.e. the maximum amount a team can pay its players in a given year) must be put into place. No more soft cap in which teams pay a so-called luxury tax on every dollar they spend beyond the cap. The whole soft cap thing is bullcrap. The wealthy or crazy owners just spend whatever they want and pay the penalty. This has the effect of putting all the league’s superstars on just a few teams. Since there are not enough superstars to go around, most teams are condemned to mediocrity or worse.
(2) The hard cap must be enforced. The owners are too greedy and stupid and starved for worship to police themselves. They are constantly thinking, “Jeez, if I just had so and so on my team, I could win it all, and then I’d be known as a great owner and everyone would worship me.” How about this for enforcement? If an owner violates the hard cap, he will be chained to a chair and forced to watch ‘I Love Lucy’ reruns for a month.
(3) Players salaries must come back to reality. Again, don’t tell me a college star wouldn’t play in the NBA for say, $100,000. If he balks, let him work in a carpet mill for a year and slum down with common, everyday people, making $10 an hour and driving a Volkswagon Beetle.
(4) Multi-year contracts must cease to exist or at least be based on sanity. The definition of insanity is the $120 million 6-year contract awarded to Joe Johnson.
(5) Owners must share the benefits of the newly-found fiscal sanity with the fans. Ticket prices must come way down. The number and length of commercials on broadcasts must be drastically reduced.
Of course, the players will go nuts if any of this actually happens. This is to be expected. They are not bright enough to see how their greed is shredding the game’s popularity.
What Will Actually Happen
The whole mess will end up in the courts. Litigation has already begun. Lawyers are licking their chops.
Corrupt federal agencies like the NLRB will become involved as the players file grievances. Remember the NLRB? It’s the agency which prevented Boeing Airlines from building a major new plant in South Carolina, an endeavor that would have created thousands of jobs. The reason? South Carolina is a right-to-work state, meaning you don’t have to belong to a union to work there. To see how that makes any sense when so many millions of Americans are out of work, you’ll have to consult his Royal Highness, Barrack Hussein Obama. How comforting to know the NLRB will have an impact on the future of the NBA.
Federal judges will end up making rulings that will determine the final outcome of the dispute. One thing you can count on: Their decisions will be bizarre. You can also count on this: They will side with the players. They always do. Whenever the owners in the NBA, MLB or NFL have banded together and said enough is enough, the courts have found them guilty of collusion. Curiously, the courts have never found that players banding together constitutes collusion.
Not only do the federal judges, in these cases, find for the players and demand that the owners give them everything they want, they also fine the owners unmercifully for their sinful act of collusion.
So, we’ll be right back where we were. Joe Johnson will get the rest of his $120 million. Lebron James will continue to execute his midcourt-to-dunk-on-one-dribble move and will work on winning the first of his predicted seven championships. The bad teams will stay bad and get worse.
Fans of all the mediocre and bad teams will continue to lose interest in the game.
And, one day, the whole mess will collapse.