The Nonexistent Basketball AssociationBy Wesley Vaughn | 11/15/2011 11:10pm
The NBA has built itself on some of the planet’s most athletically gifted individuals, has always boasted players with enthralling personalities that light up sports-talk radio stations and has successfully reached out to all corners of the globe. It has never missed an entire season dating back to its official creation in 1949.
Until now, at least. After almost two months of marathon meetings between players and owners, the 2011-2012 NBA season will likely never begin.
It all began this past summer when Commissioner David Stern claimed that the NBA lost more than $300 million last season and expected similar losses for the upcoming season. In response, National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Billy Hunter and players quickly moved to discredit this claim. The greatest NBA season since Michael Jordan’s final season with the Chicago Bulls had devolved into an offseason of financial finagling.
Once the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement expired on July 1, the NBA officially fell into a lockout.
The owners have, through these negotiations, forced concessions from the players on most aspects of a new CBA, mainly lowering the players’ share of basketball-related income from 57 percent down to the latest concession of 51 percent. When the owners posed a 50-50 split ultimatum last week, the players dug in their heels by breaking off all negotiations Monday.
Who gave the players this sense of entitlement and seemingly unfair split of revenue? The owners actually did when the last CBA was signed in 1999, in the midst of a lockout caused by Kevin Garnett’s gargantuan contract, which opened the door to misguided overspending on players for a decade.
NBA fans will have a difficult time putting the blame on any specific group, but it will be easy to hate how this nauseating and embarrassing process transpired.
The politics of the lockout have been as follows: big-market owners versus small-market owners, owners versus Stern, Stern versus Hunter, Hunter versus players, star players versus role players, players’ agents versus owners.
The die-hard fans that fill the arenas to watch this sport have been left out, forgotten. The owners and players can explain the intricacies of their financial investment, but they too soon forget the financial and emotional investment of the fans. The fans, unlike the players and owners, do not pour time and money into this sport for a tangible return on their investment.
We do it for the thrill. Whether it’s Michael Jordan’s late-game heroics, Dirk Nowitzki’s unstoppable barrage of jump shots or Allen Iverson’s orthopedic-stressing crossovers, we don’t see dollar signs when we watch. Instead, we feel that adrenaline shot of “wooo-wheee, did you see that?”
Now that feeling is lost, in such a golden age of young NBA talent, too. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin – must I go on? They will all lose a season, a loss that could have been avoided.
Neither the players nor the owners have taken up for the fans. Neither has even seriously considered the repercussions for those whose jobs depend on the NBA. Neither has considered the legal repercussions of bailing out on taxpayer-financed arenas; the city of Memphis has already begun preparing a lawsuit.
Both sides knew the CBA’s expatriation date and refused to even discuss a new one until after July 1, then waited until after August to really start talking. Though they act as if it’s financial life or death now, the players and owners treated their multi-billion dollar league as if it were a simple homework assignment.
A couple of percentage points and a few head-bashingly miniscule details have almost certainly driven the stake through the 2011-2012 NBA season. To make matters worse, the players have assembled a legal team to supposedly mount an anti-trust lawsuit against the league once they decertify the players union.
Stern responded to this supposed tactic on SportsCenter by saying, “They seem hell-bent on self-destruction and it’s very sad.”
Commissioner Stern, you seem to be mistaken. Your entire league has been “hell-bent on self-destruction” ever since the Dallas Mavericks hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy. As the NFL quickly ended its lockout because America would cease to exist without Sunday football, your league kicked back and twiddled its thumbs.
NBA fans already have to deal with constant criticism from casual fans – the season is too long and the players don’t try hard. Commissioner Stern, I and many other NBA fans would have given anything to respond to these gripes for another season. Instead, we have to explain how the league didn’t have a season.
Wesley Vaughn is a senior majoring in public relations and political science. His column runs on Wednesday.