What Ended the NBA Lockout? We Did.

If you’re wondering why the owners and players suddenly came to an agreement to end the NBA lockout, ask yourself one simple question.

Have you missed the NBA?

Me neither.

They noticed, and decided they’d better get the games started again before our habits changed for good.

Only a few details of the agreement between the owners and players have been made public.  The division of basketball-related income will be approximately 50-50, with slight adjustments up or down depending on the total size of the revenue pool.

The luxury tax for teams that exceed the salary cap will increase by fifty percent.  Provisions involving Larry Bird rights (the ability of a team to offer more money and more years to resign its own free agents) and the mid-level exception to the cap will be affected by whether or not a team is paying luxury tax.  Each team can only have one player signed to a maximum-value contract of thirty percent of the cap figure.

These provisions are intended to make it easier for a Cleveland to keep LeBron James, and harder for a Miami to put several superstars together – which sounds good, even though the formation of the Heat as a so-called superteam brought new levels of interest to the league as a whole.

While the parameters are set – or will be once the players drop their lawsuit and form their union again, and both sides ratify the agreement – there are many details yet to be negotiated, and they are not necessarily small ones.

Eligibility for the draft is still undecided.  The owners want to raise the minimum age to 20 years old and require a player to be two years removed from high school, altering the rule from one-and-done to two-and-through.  According to Michael McCann at SI.com, they also want a third round for the draft, tougher drug testing, expanded ability to shift players to the Development League, a change in player pension benefits, and maintaining the commissioner’s power to discipline players as it is.

The players, in accepting the income provisions and getting the season underway, have ceded their leverage to affect how these issues turn out.

Still, the players had little choice.  No amount of negotiating could make up for a full season’s lost wages.

The owners, too, had every reason to fear cancelling the 2011-12 season.  They, more than the players, would be hurt in the long run by the wave of apathy that has greeted the missed games so far.

Pro basketball is the most inessential of the major sports.

Baseball is a day-in, day-out companion for summer nights.  The NFL is an inextricable part of autumn and winter Sundays, reinforced by tailgating rituals and widescreen home viewing.

When, exactly, do we need the NBA?

Not in November or December, when pro and college football are the center of attention.

Not in January, time of the NFL playoffs.

Not in February, as college basketball conference races intensify and pro basketball hits its dog days of the schedule.

Not in March, the month of eponymous Madness.

Not in April – baseball, the Masters – nor in May and June, when our impulses draw us outdoors into the nicer weather.

Some people even watch hockey.

The NBA has serious structural problems.  The season is too long; players can’t give their best efforts when playing back-to-back nights in different cities, or four games in five days anywhere.  The tickets are too expensive to have so many games; the secondary market online helps, but season-ticket holders are usually selling at a significant loss.

And then, after too many games and too much cash outlay, we reach the playoffs, and the prices get jacked up even further.

The NBA labor dispute in 1999 took place in a universe without the array of internet entertainment options or any-game-any-time packages available today.  The teams, in selling tickets, aren’t competing with the NHL or movies or concerts or theater, but rather with the entire world at our fingertips in the comfort of our homes.

The NBA knows this.  That’s why it couldn’t risk our learning how easily we can do without it.

The truncated season – 66 games instead of 82, starting on Christmas — will be a mixed blessing for those who go to the arenas.  They won’t have to pay for as many games, but the ones that are played will be compromised by the compressed schedule.

The NBA has been one of the most forward-thinking leagues in embracing the promotional value of the internet, courting overseas markets, encouraging user-generated content, letting historic footage stay up on YouTube.

Yet, like all sports, pro basketball faces the uni-tasking conundrum: If I go to a game, I see one game; if I stay home, I can see a dozen.

Is it worth it in a multitasking world?

As successful as last season was, both sides in this dispute knew they had to get enough settled to let the games begin again, before we forgot about them completely.

No one ever got rich counting on the American people to have a long memory.

(published November 29, 2011)








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