david stern

V.20 No.44 | 11/3/2011
Dirk Nowitzki has threatened to take his talents overseas


The NBA blues

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.

An intermediary could not get the two sides close enough. The cancellation of at least one month of the season is not going to do it either. So what's it going to take?

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.

V.20 No.41 | 10/13/2011
NBA Commish David Stern


NBA Lockout Spills First Blood

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.