On a day in which the NBA Players Union and Owners met to try and discuss a happy medium for both sides to figure out a deal, as much of these negotiations have gone, progress was interuppted by threats and ultimatums. Conversations of gloom were being whispered about in the boardrooms and both sides pointed at the other as culprits of why there would be no basketball for the forseeable future. Welcome to the NBA labor negoations which is in its fifth month of existence and seem to always move towards a darker future than a quick dissolution.
Let’s assess what the issues are shall we? BRI which is Basketball Related Income is the biggie. In their previous deal which expired, the Players had received 57% of it while the owners only enjoyed 43%. The owners obviously want a bigger share. Why? Because the owners have been doling out huge guaranteed contracts to players that have neither lived up NOR played out their contracts because they either suck or they got their big contract and decided it wasn’t worth it to try anymore. I call it the Eddy Curry clause.
The Players have argued, and fairly enough, that they should not be penalized for mistakes the owners have made and don’t feel that their revenue should be affected by it. The owners have complained that the NBA has been in the red for the last 4 years. The NBA showed the players side the books and the players argued that the figures they were shown were innacurate and made to seem like the NBA was losing money when it was only a few small market teams.
Which bring us to those small market teams. Much of the hard line stance has been taken up by these small market owners. They fear that they will not be able to compete in this new NBA if several system changes are not made to penalize big market teams. They want those teams to pay a luxury tax of 1.75 per every $1 they go over the cap. So for example, the Lakers last year went over the cap by $20 million. They paid an extra $20 million in luxury tax. In this new deal offered by the owners, the Lakers would pay $35 million in luxury tax. The owners also want big market teams to not be able to execute sign and trades which would allow teams to gain flexibility. They also want to lower the amount of mid level exceptions for big market teams that go over the salary cap from $5 million to $2.5 every other year and only give them the option to hand out 2 year deals.
This means that there is a fraction within the ownership group . But according to Stern, there is unanimity that these changes must take effect for the greater good of the game. Small market teams will not be able to compete with big market teams because their owners will not be able to afford to be in the same ballpark as their other owners. You may be wondering “why not? Aren’t all these guys billioinaires? Why can’t they spend like the big market teams?” Because at the end of the day, what made them billionaires still holds true. This is a business for them, so if they don’t see revenue to match the big salaries they are committing to (remember these are guaranteed contracts, so once they are signed, there is no going back. See Curry, Eddy) they won’t spend. The bottom line IS the bottom line and that’s what rules. They won’t overspend JUST to overspend unless your name is Mark Cuban and you actually care for the product. Most owners are just rich people who love having extravagant toys so that when they go over each other’s yachts they can sip $1,000 champagne glasses yucking it up over their sports franchises. Its true. I read it somewhere in some magazine. That’s what these people do.
But the owners of these small market teams want to be able to compete with big market teams and protect their own superstars from pulling a Lebron or worse pulling a Carmelo. Lebron held the Cavs hostage for two years. Dan Gilbert invested heavily into the Cavs and yet his reward was the Lebron Decision special and watching his star player bolt for richer pastures in South Beach. Carmelo Anthony, craved the big market and big lights and was able to finally leave Denver after they decided that it best to receive a group of complementary players than watch Carmelo appear on national television with a Knick jersey and so they made a deal which they certainly didn’t get equal value in return JUST to avoid the whole “you let him leave for NOTHING?” arguments that would’ve started.
Unfortunately big market teams will always have that allure and always have that ability. Dwight Howard has already intimated in recent interviews that he feels Orlando may not be big enough for what he wants to accomplish in his future which goes back to the whole small market problem. Players want to be featured and want to be shown on billboards and take their brands global.
This of course is the biggest problem the NBA has and Stern has only himself to blame. Unlike the NFL or NHL or even baseball, the NBA markets its players above the team. It has helped players earn so much more money than their actual basketball income and has allowed them to explore options outside of the hard court and has made them so much more business savvy. They are seeing the creation of that culture with Lebron James whose company has marketed itself has a player friendly company that allows them to build their own empire under their own watch. This is very important for players who want to build value for themselves long after they leave the court.
All of this was started by one guy: Michael jeffrey Jordan who has had the most interesting affect on this labor lockout. During the last labor lockout he was a player advocating the players side and even telling the Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin (former owner) that he should probably look into making better decisions. Ironic now given Jordan’s own inability to make good decisions (see Brown, Kwame number one draft pick under Jordan’s watch) and his inability to get his own franchise, the Charlotte Bobcats out of the mire that is mostly his own doing. Jordan emerged over the weekend as the biggest voice among a contingent of owners wanting an exclusive 50% deal to be put in front of the players as a take it or leave it kind of talk after more rumors had emerged that there was a group of players now looking into decertification and the process. Jordan’s stance seems hypocritical in some respects but his actions this weekend during the lockout negotiations spoke volumes about him as a player and person.
During negotiations, players were ready for Jordan to speak and say something, ANYTHING so they could fire back at his hypocrisy but he said nothing. When it came time for Jordan to open up he didn’t. He knew that it was a battle he was unprepared to fight and unable to win and thus he never tried. This has always been true of Jordan. I said this before and I’ll say it again, Mike is good at being Mike. He isn’t good at being Muhammad Ali or anyone else with a platform that has been outspoken on issues pertaining to his people OR to anyone else.
Mike has always looked after number one and that, more than anything has been evident. Jason Whitlock wrote a scathing article depicting Mike as a sellout. I’m not prepared to call him a sellout to his own people but I’ve always knew one thing about Jordan: he’s not the guy you should look to when the things get really sticky outside of a basketball court. He’s never been. When a person of color gets a platform to speak out about atrocities or injustices happening around him, he/she is given unnecessary pressure to do something or say something about it. It doesn’t mean that Jordan, in this instance, is FOR the injustice or FOR the wrongdoing that is going on, it just means that he would rather not come out publicly about it to protect himself from unnecessary collateral damage. He’s protecting himself and his empire. Jordan’s always done that and always been cool for it.
We would rather imagine Jordan in a basketball uniform dunking and holding form in Utah in Game Six of 98 Finals. We don’t want to picture Jordan outside of a courthouse in a suit because that’s not the brand he sells. Jordan sells basketball shoes not courtroom suits. He’s protecting his image and doing a great job at it. But there will always be people who expect more from Jordan. Bill Simmons this weekend wrote a great article about Eddie Murphy’s career and wrote that by early 90’s Jordan had wrestled the title of the coolest black dude alive title away from him and Michael Jackson. But the fact is, when their apex was done, there was nothing lasting for us to remember them by. They didn’t take a single stance worth remembering or do anything worth conserving. If in a 1,000 years someone were to utter their names, what would be their legacy? Would they even be remembered that far down the line? I bet only Muhammad Ali would because of his greatness on the court and the life he lived off it. His story and fight for racial justice is far more important to a greater segment of the population than Mike’s ability to hit a jumpshot or Eddie Murphy’s ability to make us laugh. In a 1,000 years people will remember Ali’s struggle and his fight for equality far more than either of them.
And that’s a shame to some. Years from now people will remember Bill Russell as the greatest center alive and as one of the greatest basketball players alive for his ability to fight racism and win as much as he did. Magic will be remembered as a pioneering player who played center in Game 7 of an NBA finals in his rookie year and then go on to be a huge proponent of AIDS/HIV awareness. These people impacted society. Michael Jordan won championships and sold shoes. His reach only goes to the poor neighborhoods whose message has been “Be like Mike”. But if you’re going to be like Mike, does that mean make a lot of money but don’t do anything for your community?
I don’t think that’s Mike’s role in these labor talks but I find it comical that he would even be mentioned as a vocal leader of a group of owners who want sweeping change. THIS is not the arena in which Michael wants to make a stand. When I read the reports I said to myself that this couldn’t be. Mike always liked to play it safe when it came to really important stuff. He was going to be outspoken NOW? When it could come back and bite him in the ass and hurt players who work for him? Really? So it didn’t surprise me one bit that he came to his senses and didn’t utter a peep. Nothing. Not a word.
Its this legacy that forever will remain with Jordan. When it came time to say something, he didn’t. He sat quietly in a corner as people with real balls to do something actually did something. Jordan’s greatness on the court isn’t to be questioned. He’s the greatest basketball player that has ever graced the courts. But when it comes to being a leader off it, he’d much rather let people who have more to lose do the losing. He’s a winner and the more he stays quiet and allows this process to be led by other people the more he wins. He’s still idolized and revered and not lumped in with the owners who want to greedily take away the players money.
Jordan is finally going to the craps table and just standing by while others gamble their good names away. He’d much rather stand and watch that happen.
In the end, this labor deal will get done. In one way or the other. My prediction is that this ultimatum will be taken off the table because it won’t matter. Players will accept a 50% deal with projections that allow them the 51% or 52% they seek as the NBA does better. The owners know that they have to appease them and more importantly Stern knows. Stern’s biggest task is to convince these owners that allowing some of these concessions is imperative to keeping a season. Having a season off the one we just had is SO IMPORTANT. In the end if these talks break down and the league ends up not having a season over what is being described as 1 measly percentage point then BOTH sides will be looked at as greedy and failures. Right now, no one cares because football and fantasy football is keeping us busy. But if people still don’t care when February comes, then the NBA will know they have a huge problem. Remember, come February, spring training will begin so the public will be distracted by that as well. How long can the NBA and its Players continue to play this game of chicken until they realize that what is happening is already affecting them long term?
More so than the threat of the next group of offers from the owners being worse due to projections of lost revenue thanks to the first month of games being lost, the threat of people not really caring should be the biggest worry for both sides. Get a deal done. Stop worrying about public perception of who won or lost because both sides are headed to big fat L’s if they don’t bandy their respective groups together to come to a happy medium.
But for people like MJ, does it really matter? As long as his name isn’t dragged through the mud. The sad part of all this is that MJ could do wonders if he spoke up in the owners group and forced the owners to give an actual offer that would appease the players and appease the owners. A happy middle ground. Have an economist draw up numbers so that MJ could present it to the owners. Imagine what would happen to his reputation then if it came out that it was MJ who went in front of the owners and spoke as a player as to the importance of keeping a season alive and keeping this great momentum they have. Imagine what would happen to MJ’s stock if he was the guy that got the owners to present a very good deal to the players. Imagine the pressure on the players to accept a deal then. Michael could come across as the hero, an unfamiliar role for a guy who has never seen any type of success in his life as an NBA GM/Owner. This would be his biggest victory and a lasting legacy. The guy who allowed the NBA to continue its growth. The NBA has enough really good young players to take over once Kobe/Nash/Dirk retire. They have enough young talent to take over that’s exciting. To build upon all the success that Jordan helped continue when Bird and Magic helped to revitalize the NBA in the 80’s. This would be Jordan’s legacy. His shoebrand and empire empowered this generation of kids to be more business savvy. That generation is now seeking its own financial security and its own step forward. Michael could help it. Mike needs to be Mike in this case. Mike needs to invoke his name and reputation and use it for good. Mike needs to step up. Mike needs the ball. The clock is ticking. Who else would you rather see with the ball in his hands? Yep, its time for Mike to step up and hit the shot to bring us back an NBA season. Let’s see if he can do it.
Here are the Picks for Week 9:
Falcons (-6.5) over COLTS
SAINTS (-8.5) over Bucs- No way the Saints get beat again and lose the way they did last time.
TEXANS (-10.5) over Browns
Jets (+2.5) over BILLS
CHIEFS (-4) over Dolphins- Seriously, if the Dolphins decide to compete, I would be very upset with them if I were a Dolphin fan.
49ers (-4) over REDSKINS- if the Niner offense were explosive this would be a double digit line. But the NIners run a conservative offense thus, only 4.
Seahawks (+11) over COWBOYS- The Seahawks have a sneaky good defense.
RAIDERS (-7) over Broncos
Bengals (+3) over TITANS
CARDINALS (-3) over Rams
PATRIOTS (-9) over Giants
Packers (-5.5) over CHARGERS
STEELERS (-3) over Ravens
EAGLES (-7.5) over Bears
Enjoy Week 9 Folks.