Well, I now know what I won’t be doing from Nov. 1 to Nov. 14. Monday’s announcement from NBA Commissioner David Stern that the first two weeks of the 2011-12 regular season is cancelled wasn’t a complete surprise. Yet it still felt like a slap in the face to NBA fans across the country and the world.
What was a bit surprising was what the major issue were between the two sides during the past week. For all the talk from the NBA and its owners about a hard salary cap, revenue sharing and limiting the idea of overpaid NBA players, the issues that were demanded by the owners came down to money and greed.
The owners demanded a 50-50 split of the overall profits that the league earns. Under the collective bargaining agreement that has been active since 1999 until this past July, the players have received a little over 57 percent of the profits. The players union agreed to limit their share of the profits to 53 percent. This turned out to not be good enough for the owners.
According to the math, each BRI percentage point equals roughly $40 million. Therefore, the players are willing to swallow around $160 million, but the owners are unwilling to compromise the remaining $120 million. However, $120 million split by the 30 NBA teams doesn’t compare to the money that will be lost due to canceling a portion, or the entire regular season.
For the players, “missing two weeks of games means losing paychecks worth about 8.3 percent of their annual salary — or about $175 million for the first half of November. That’s more than a drop from 53 percent to 50 percent of BRI would cost the players.”* It has become about more than money to the players. The same cannot be said about the NBA and its owners.
President of the NBPA and Lakers guard Derek Fisher told the press, “this is a big blow, obviously, to our fans most importantly. They don’t have a voice in this fight but we hear them loud and clearly that they want basketball. We want to play basketball.”*
Fisher went on to say, “lost salary is obviously not a good feeling for anyone, even for our players. But I think it continues to prove the message from our standpoint that this is not just about dollars and cents for players; it’s about the system that NBA players can operate under, the opportunities that guys at every level — max guys, mid-level guys, rookies, veterans — will have to be able to play the game they love to play.”*
According to many insiders, the NBA and the owners are waiting for the players to cave. They hope once the players go without a few paychecks the union will come running to strike a deal. However, the union and the NBPA remains unified to go the distance.
However, it seems that inside the negotiations the hard cap issue is the major road block. According to union President Billy Hunter, this has been the “blood issue” of the lockout the entire time, despite what Stern tells the media.
According to Hunter, “it goes back to a comment that David said to me several years ago, when he said this is what my owners have to have. And I said, ‘Well, the only way you’re going to get that is, you prepare to lock us out for a year or two.’ And he’s indicated to me that they’re willing to do it. So my belief and contention is that everything that he’s done has demonstrated that he’s following that script.”*
This is the slap in the face to the fans mentioned in the beginning of this article. There seems to be no regard for the fans in the eyes of the Commissioner and the owners. The fact that they are unwilling to negotiate means that they believe they can live without the fans’ support, financial and otherwise.
Commissioner Stern’s reputation has already been up in the air from fans for years, but his handling of the lockout is serving as the point of his reputation’s steep decline. The idea that he is willing to keep the league locked out for years lets fans know what is important to him: money.
The fans are the ones that lose most from the lockout. Yet, the fans are the ones who determine how the league bounces back once they return to business. This point seems to be overlooked by the Commissioner and the rest of the league owners.