Over the Thanksgiving break, there was no happier news than the revelation, entirely unexpected, that the NBA would, in fact, have a season this year. With game's slated to begin on Christmas Day (although the schedule appears to still be in doubt), this is the best present a basketball fan could ask for.
Of course, almost immediately the attitude of reporters and bloggers went from grateful for having a season, to their default setting of cynicism and calling out trade rumors as legitimate news. This is shocking, given the national media's earlier restraint.
The rumor mongering might not be so prevalent, however, if there were more concrete facts available. Billy Hunter claims that the players will be getting 51.2% of the aforementioned Basketball Revenue Income (BRI), and there's not much reason to doubt him. However, we've yet to see an official schedule of games from the NBA. While there's no conspiracy theorizing (yet) going on, there certainly is a dearth of information in a culture that is starving for sustenance.
Las Vegas odds favor the Miami Heat to win the season, with the Toronto Raptors clocking in with the lowest chance. The Los Angeles Lakers, of course, figure into that equation, as do the Chicago Bulls, the San Antonio Spurs, the defending champion Dallas Mavericks, the Oklahoma City Thunder and, of course, the Boston Celtics, who introduced their own trade rumors just recently.
Regardless of the odds, though, of a season that wasn't even in existence a mere week ago, the simple truth is that NBA fans have a lot to be thankful for. The usual doldrums of the season might be lost in this proposed 66 game schedule, and the traditional masterpiece of Christmas day games appears to be standing strong.
As a dyed-in-the-wool basketball fan, I know this might sound a little bit like sacrilege (even though every serious basketball fan has had this discussion at several points in their fandom; it seems like the stink eye is always the response) but it might be time to think about shortening the season and making this a regular season. Football as America's religion is not just a trope as this point; it's a fact. So if the NBA can make a splash by starting the season on Christmas and then play out their "It's early in the season, no one cares about these games," period in January and early February, while the NFL is building to the Super Bowl, maybe that's not a bad thing.
The time for long term plans, now, thankfully, seems far off. The time for celebration? Just about to begin. Welcome back, NBA.
Tuesday night was supposed to be opening day for the National Basketball Association. Instead, we have headlines like "The Opening Day That Wasn't" and New Mexico residents got to see UNM beat up on NAIA Davenport. The defending NBA Finals MVP is saying things indicating that the NBA might lose some of their star power. And, of course, the long shadow of the dominant face of American sports (the NFL, of course) only grows longer.
Basketball should have learned its lesson from the National Hockey League. Even if NBA Commissioner David Stern had somehow succeeded in making basketball the most popular sport in America, he should have taken one long, hard look at what happened to the NHL after their lockout and done everything in his power to avoid this. Of course, there are those who claim that he still is. There are those who claim that this lockout is simply about greedy players wanting more money. The refuting of this point having already been done, let's go ahead and assume that people on both sides are working—just not hard enough.
The economics of the lockout have been broken down so many times that it feels a little frustrating to go over them again. Instead, a little speculation.
There had been talk that the owners were simply waiting for the season to start, for the players to miss their paychecks. This theory held that the owners felt that once money started not appearing, the players would break. With the dawn of new media and the way players are directly connected to both their fans and their sponsors, this seems like a shoddy argument to base your entire game theory around.
On the other hand, how many of the NBA players have super-popular Twitter accounts—or websites, failing that? How many of them have such airtight endorsements that they won’t feel the pinch once money is supposed to be rolling in?
The players can present a united front all they'd like (and they really, really, really want to), but there will surely be some cracks in the armor soon. It all depends on how large those cracks appear, and how violently they assert themselves. If guys stop getting together and planning flag football games, you'll know something else is wrong.
For now, the only thing that's wrong is that baseball's over, football's at its midway point and yet, for some reason, there is no NBA on television. It's a sad day for a basketball junkie.
The NBA has been officially locked out since July 1. But on Monday night, as the players and owners failed to reach a compromise on a new collective bargaining agreement, the lockout reached a new level: The first two weeks of the 2011-2012 NBA season have been cancelled. This is not virgin territory for the NBA. With a lockout-shortened 1998-1999 season still fresh on fans' minds, and the success of the 2010-2011 season, it seems poor timing for the perennial middle child (if that) of America's sports love to lose any part of a season.
With the NBA locked out and a shortened season the best thing fans can hope for, it's time to break down a few misconceptions about the circumstances that got us to this point, as well as the reality of the situation we're in.
First of all, this has been coming for quite a while. And, despite the fact that everyone knew it was going to happen (perhaps even as far back as the last lockout), the two sides—represented by David Stern and Billy Hunter—didn't meet until August. Now that the first two weeks of the season have been cancelled, at least one ESPN reporter claims that the real work will finally begin. That's a pathetic effort from a sport that isn't entitled to anywhere near the rate of audience-retention that its big brother the NFL is.
Secondly, despite the above griping, those who say this is just millionaires and billionaires fighting over money are dead wrong. The fight is over money, certainly, but only one side is demanding more. While the owners were previously receiving a paltry—in their eyes—43% of the BRI (the Basketball Related Income), the players came to the initial meetings willing to move down, from 57% to 53%. While some speculated this might be an acceptable compromise, initial reports claimed the owners wanted the players to bump all the way down to 39%. Then it looked as though the owners were only willing to meet if that figure was at 50-50. Finally, it's been reported that the owners want to take as much as 54%. All these figures have been thrown around as a precondition on the part of the owners to the resumption of meetings. It's hard to call those kind of tactics good faith negotiation.
An under-reported angle to the story—at least in the mainstream media—is how the second-tier people will be affected by this. While SLAM Online reported NBA players' reactions to the announcement, there have been no in-depth stories on the hundreds, if not thousands, of employees at the arenas, ticket offices, concession stands and security. Surely these people, for whom this is presumably their job, the main source of their income, need their paychecks more than any of the players do—not to mention the owners, for many of whom owning an NBA team is a literal luxury. Make sure to include the third-tier layer of ramifications, such as lowered airline revenue from fewer people traveling to games and lowered restaurant revenue from fewer people going out for the night to watch the game and it's easy to see the far-reaching effects of this lockout.
It's easy to look at the NBA lockout—in the era of the Occupy Wall Street movement—as just another sign of corporate greed. However, like all economic situations, the truth resists simplicity. The players union and the owners have a complicated battle ahead of them, culminating not in the moment that the season is saved—or doomed—but rather in the rehabilitation of their image after that fact. To say that greed got them to this point is ignorant. But if you're looking for a simple tagline, some of that elusive truth, it's relatively easy: The players want to play (and get paid) and the owners want to make money. They'll come to an agreement sooner or later. It's only a question of how many people will still be watching.
Every other day, it seems, a new NBA star is rumored to be looking into signing overseas to play in some other league, and David Stern, the commissioner of the NBA, seems to be almost taunting those who have done so already as well as those who are thinking about it. The fight in the NBA is almost purely over money, as opposed to the NFL, where there were (and still are, for many) concerns over the length of the schedule, league rules, intensity of practices and other factors.
The owners in the NBA want more share of revenue and seem to be more than willing to give up this season to get it. The players, on the other hand, are reluctant to give up more than they already have. The owners claim that the NBA as a whole is losing money and that the league cannot continue on the course it's on. The players counter that, more than any other league, the NBA is star-centric; people don't come to NBA arenas to watch the big hits, like they do for football, nor do they come for the history of the park or the team, like they do in baseball. Some of them come out of fervent support for a team, like we see often in hockey and soccer, but mostly, the players contend, the audiences flock to the arenas of the NBA for the marquee players.
Last NBA season was one for the ages. We had a young, rising star in Chicago win the MVP award, reminding the world that Michael Jordan doesn't play basketball anymore, and the game is in good hands. We had the near-unanimous consent of the sporting nation in rooting against the Heat. We had the underdog Mavs overcome those same Heat in a surprisingly great NBA Finals series. We had Blake Griffin as Rookie of the Year, robbed of his real rookie season and then proving that he was the real thing.
Now, we have football back and a populace that was already just borderline-interested in basketball seems poised to lose any of the respect that the last few post-Jordan years had seemingly cemented. We have that same Rookie of the Year lamenting that in his first three seasons, he might get to play a mere 82 games. We have players taking to their Twitter accounts in a style far less aggressive than when James Harrison called out NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in the pages of Men's Journal magazine, while the NFL was still locked out. The degree of severity doesn't matter, though, for a sport that plays second-fiddle in America's eyes, at best.
The worst news for basketball fans is that most owners didn't get rich by owning NBA teams. The teams are a side business at most, a fun distraction at least. If they have to lose this season in order to get the profit sharing margin down to the levels where they think it needs to be in order to continue having their fun, they seem more than willing to do so. The silver lining is that there is plenty of basketball off the NBA courts still being played. But that's about it.
On Monday morning, the good news started pouring in for fans of American football. The lockout which had threatened the country's (true, modern) pastime finally ended. The focus now turns to the actual start of the season, currently slated for September 8.
When the new NFL season begins, there will be a couple important differences, but most of them will be invisible. When it comes to the changes that both sides were pushing for, there was compromise instead of hard manifestation—at least to this point. The schedule will remain a 16-game affair —for now. Owners will be getting more money than they were previously. Practices will change, and there is already grumbling from those who are attached to the old schedule.
These differences, however, are inevitable when two sides are fighting for every inch. All told, in the process of negotiation, the NFL was officially locked out for more than 4 months, the longest lockout in NFL history. However, the good news is that no official games were lost to the labor dispute, save an exhibition game which had been scheduled for August 7.
A great summary of the winners and losers of the draft has been written up at espn.com. In regards to that article, though, I'd defy anyone to go out and talk to a football fan. There is a reason that this was the top story on ESPN for the last three days, and why it continues to get mentioned on CNN. In times like these, when people are looking toward August 2 as a potential for the United States government defaulting on its debt, Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, took the time to point out that if football can get a deal done, certainly the bureaucrats in Washington should be able to follow suit; especially when the matter is of such increased gravity. For those who prefer their sports without politics, there's a handy comparison, too: The NFL lockout being resolved in a timely fashion gives hope to the fans of the NBA, which is still engaged in a lockout of its own.
At the end of the day, though, despite lists of winners and losers and total amount of time lost to this lockout, the easiest proof is in the pudding. Next time you're out and about, ask a sports fan—whether it's at a bar, at work, or even just at a stoplight—"Hey, how do you feel that the NFL lockout is over?" Chances are, they'll gripe a bit. They'll mention how it was millionaires fighting with billionaires. And they'll say how ridiculous it was to have to slog through the news. But, at the end of that conversation, most people, as Americans who love football above all others, will smile and say, "Hey, I'm just glad it's back."