The NBA’s Ownership/Player Nuclear Detente (Part 1 – with reference links)

DJ Mix Master Stern Plays “Cry me a (Small Owner Sympathy) River” and “No Sympathy for the (Wandering Superstar, Millionaire Player and NBAPA) Devil

“If you want the truth to stand clear before you, never be for or against. The struggle between “for” and “against” is the minds worst disease” (Sent’-ts’an)

To those of you intrigued with the strategic dimensions of the current stand off, you sense that a cap (not hard cap) should be tipped to David Stern and his Generals in the war rooms of the NBA Management Offices. With a palette- consisting of small market lamentation, irrational ire at wandering superstar, jealousy and antipathy towards millionaire athletes in general and attractive or major metropolitan markets in particular, critical omissions and contested accounting– Stern’s brushstrokes have produced a masterwork. An opus that cast the NBA as the textbook sympathetic victim and the league’s players (via the NBAPA) as the ultimate unsympathetic host.  A despicable hoard to be justly cast back by the righteous hand of NBA ownership’s Crusade for a “Sterner” brand of justice, replete with ultimatums and deals that go from terrible to bad or worse. Nothing but attorneys! Nothing but Accountants? However, if you take a step back context may reveal many obfuscated or conveniently forgotten dimensions of the background story in the current NBA/Player divide. We may come to see which side first crossed (dare I suggest obliterated) the lines of good faith that the victims are not so victimized and that perhaps Michael Jordan will beat the Knicks and his competitors, this time by proxy by employing small market pro Jordan Rules against the big bad superteams.

We’ve heard the story so many times already the NBA has sustained significant losses incurred by many (mostly small and mid market) franchises. Losses, which according to several reports have amounted to $300 million during the 2010-11 season ($1.6 billion over the life of the last collective bargaining agreement). To make matters worse small markets (already purportedly under water economically) began to endure the indignities of a significant migration of marquee talent towards more attractive locales and the league’s bigger markets in general. In the course of an hour long special, a league’s golden boy (Lebron James) became vilified as the poster boy for player power run amuck.

Carmelo Anthony’s negotiated relocation to Madison Square Garden reinforced the perception of a league incapable of stemming the tide of a talent drain to the detriment of “star crossed” small markets. In the wake of the 2010-11 seasons of mass marquee player movement, perennial playoff contenders in Cleveland and Phoenix regressed in the absence of stars like James and Amare Stoudemire while Denver and Toronto lost the visibility afforded them by Anthony and Chris Bosh. The situation apparently screamed for league intervention to redraft the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) in order to save the baby seals. Whoops, I mean small market owners.

It’s a compelling narrative huh? Those poor ole small market teams. Your heart just weeps for them heh? Well if you believe that story in two dimensions, I have a bridge to parts unknown to sell you over in Sarah Palin’s Alaska.


Actually, the latter part of the decade involved franchises engaged in lop sided trades between small market feeder franchises (Timber wolves and Grizzlies) and marquee franchises (Celtics and Lakers).  Those trades transferred impact players to the larger markets. The model forged the powerhouse Celtics and Lakers that came to dominate the championship stage. While in Cleveland a flawed development model, likely influenced the Lebron’s choice to leave the Cavaliers. A development model built from Lebron’s immense talents that afforded the Cavaliers a quicker route to playoff (and eventually shortl ived) championship contention. A development model that devolved into surrounding Lebron with middling talent and aging impact players (way past their prime). But a model whose initial success (sparked by the impact of Lebron’s talents) left the Cavaliers bereft of higher draft picks to increase the pool of young impact talent around the Cavaliers lone Superstar. The tragedy of Lebron James and the Cavaliers early success.

Left for dead on a small market franchise incapable of drawing sufficient complimentary (and or impact talent) to bolster his championship aspirations, Lebron James endured the rise and success of the powerhouse team model. With his title aspirations left to whims of the Cavaliers flawed building model, Lebron dared to place his legacy in his own managerial hands. In the summer of 2010 under the old rules of the game that had successfully served the Lakers and Celtics (via insider management networks in Memphis and Minnesota) Lebron joined fellow Stars Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. In doing so Lebron James and his allies craked the multi star team code and broke down the doors. To that end Lebron James only took the power house model that had been employed against him and turned it into a model whereby players became active agents in forging their own teams. Born was the era of the “Superteam.”

Similar to the ‘Basketball Related Income (BRI) Lie‘ alluded to by our colleague, Lives in New Jersey, the series of events leading up to the ever heated NBA Labor/Management standoff has been cast heavily in a manner favorable to Management. For instance although references to exchanges between Labor and Management to resolve the impasses have been dubbed negotiations, the process has not really played itself out in that manner. Rather, the process has consisted of an exchange in which the Players Association has conceded slowly but surely on many fronts in maneuvering from Ownerships initially severe list of demands (Hard cap, 57-43 BRI split in the owners favor, franchise tag and a roll back of player salaries with no cap exceptions and non guaranteed contracts of 4 years for Larry bird free agents and 3 years for other free agents). Concessions in the area of “Larry Bird Rights,” maximum contract length, opt out clauses and Early Termination Options (ETOs), have coincided with the slow whittling of the players already compromised stance with regard to the share of BRI. Resulting in an initial player high of 57 percent of BRI to the players relenting to a 50/50 BRI split in a last ditch effort to preserve a semblance of the free agency structure in existence during the prior (CBA).

However even that good faith concession of about 2-2.5 BRI points (1 point of BRI is equal to about 40 million dollars) to reach a 50/50 BRI split has yielded only a marginal concessions from Ownership on systems issues. In sum the players’ concession of 280 million dollars annually towards addressing the League’s alleged 300 million annual losses has done little to close the gap on the issues players insist are critical to an equitable resolution of the NBA’s ownership/labor divide. Apparently what is manifesting itself is small market ownerships strong-arming of the players union to concede to a player sacrifice oriented solution to the League’s financial problems. All the while little mention is made of the league’s failure to discuss the NBA’s revenue sharing alternative in an open and frank manner.