NBA labor-negotiation questions answered by a fan

My name is Carlos, I’m 26 years old and I’m a fan of the NBA. Have been since I was 9. I’m from Brazil, and following the NBA was what drove me to learn English. Now I’m an English teacher and translator, and it all happened because, about 12 years ago, I decided I wanted to understand a little bit more than the scores on NBA.com. So yeah, I’m a big fan. And I really hate this lockout. I hate what the owners are doing, I hate the way they have conducted this negotiation.

On the other hand, I also hate the way the players have been acting. Now they have an offer on the table which might not be ideal, but it is far from the “no guaranteed contracts, hard cap and rollbacks” stuff from months ago. It’s an offer adjusted to our current economic environment. It’s not ideal to the players, and it’s not ideal to the owners. The owners’ original demands were unreasonable, but so were the players’! Expecting to keep their 57% with the NBA losing a lot of money made just as much sense as the owners’ original 63/37 offer. So basically, both sides have compromised and, I thought, found some common ground. Except the players don’t see it that way. And then Etan Thomas, whom I respect and recognize as a very thoughtful guy, sends these questions to owners and, clearly, to the fans as well.

I just wanted an opportunity to show a point of view that has been pretty much ignored during this lockout: the fan’s. It’s not my intent to represent the fans as a whole, although some of my opinions are shared by a lot of people, I’m sure. I do intend to convey the frustation that is widespread among the people who are the most important, and unfortunately most ignored, in this lockout.

1. To his credit, David Stern can spin information with the best of them. That being said, I have not met one player who, after fully understanding the particulars of the NBA's proposal, concluded that this is an acceptable deal. So my question is, what will it take for the NBA CEOs to understand that they are not going to be able to manipulate the players through the media?
Don’t know. What will it take for players to understand that they are not going to be able to “win” this negotiation and that they stand to lose much more from not taking a deal? That is not manipulation, that is a fact. The owners have other businesses, whereas this is all most players can do. Individually, each owner can afford to lose the season, they can even afford to lose the NBA altogether. You guys, on the other hand, cannot. You talk about protecting the future generations of players, but I don’t think that should come at the cost of the current one. And, unfair as it might be, that’s the direction you’re headed. Union officials like to point out that the average player’s career is 3 or 4 years, and you’re risking to lose the season? How is that looking out for the best interests of your class?

2. The NBA CEOs know that their proposed system functions as a hard cap, because no team will be willing to pay that strict a penalty for going over the luxury tax. Do they think the players can't see that?

Of course the players feel that way, but whether you’re right or not, it’s debatable. In the past, teams like the Knicks and the Blazers have paid over $100 million in salaries, In fact, in 2005-06, the Knicks’ payroll was $124 million, putting them $62.3 million over the luxury tax. With that in mind, I don’t understand why you’d assume teams would not be willing to do that again. I don’t think they should, but a few teams can definitely afford it. Most teams can’t, but that has always been the case anyway.

3. Do the NBA CEOs think the union can't see that this "new revision" is worse than the proposal they gave us last week, even though the "clock has stopped" on their ultimatum?

If you don’t want the NBA to manipulate the players, the media and the fans, why don’t you show exactly how the new proposal is worse than the previous one? Players keep saying that, but haven’t given even one example of how that’s the case. Maybe you, as a union, should do a better job of relaying the information you have to fellow players, the media and the fans, instead of tweeting “Let us play,” “Stand united,” or whatever your new motto is. That would go a long way toward improving your image. Right now, you’re coming off as very disorganized and unable to keep your own players informed.

4. Are the NBA CEOs convince the union can't figure out that the way in which they constructed and defined the mid-level exception, no team will ever use it?

Again, as this set of questions was directed not only to the “NBA CEOs”, as you like to call them, but to us fans as well, it’s pointless to make that statement without showing any evidence to support it.

5. Did the NBA CEOs believe with Michael Jordan to the negotiating table we were going to be intimidated or awed to the point that this awful deal would start to look more attractive to us?

Probably not. I hope they’d be smarter than that. But even if they did, so what? Did the NBPA members believe that, with stars such as Dwyane Wade screaming at David Stern, the owners were going to be intimidated? How is this different?

6. David Stern obviously issued his "terrible deal now or even worse deal" later ultimatum because he wanted to scare the players into meeting his every demand. Did he really expect that his threat would cause the union to come running with apologies for being bad employees and beg him to let us go back to work?

Irrelevant. The point is, the owners will, at some point, take their supposed “terrible deal” off the table and you would be foolish not to take it before that happens. Sometimes, you have to realize it’s time to cut your losses and move on. This is your chance to do it, whether you want to believe it or not. If you believe decertification will save you, good luck. David Stern doesn’t look very worried.

7. When the union was given the two options of a horrible deal now or an even worse deal later, why are people really surprised that we chose neither?
Because we still believed players would be smarter than that, I guess. Because “neither” is not really an option. Because if you think you’re going to get a much better deal, you’re delusional. Because fans who work hard every day to make enough money to feed their families don’t believe this is such a horrible deal, and players saying it is just shows their sense of entitlement and really turns us off. I could go on and on, but you get the point.

8. During recent negotiations, reporters continuously tweeted and wrote articles citing "anonymous sources" saying that we were closer to a deal then we actually were, or that progress was being made. Why do reporters keep giving false hope to fans?
Because they’re trying to do their jobs and inform us, fans. Of course, there are good and bad sources, as well as good and bad journalists, but the same can be said about any profession. Oh, by the way, some of these sources are people from within YOUR union, so maybe you should ask the same question to some of your guys.

9. During the 1998 lockout, David Robinson made the statement after one of their failed negotiation sessions, "They don't negotiate. They tell you how it will be, and they don't want to listen to the players." Isn't it interesting how history repeats itself?
Very interesting. Even more interesting is that, more than a decade after that lockout, the consensus is that the players came out ahead on that deal. Hard to understand how owners who don’t negotiate would allow that to happen.

10. When someone buys a fast-food franchise, they don't just get keys and a congratulations card. They receive instructions on how to successfully operate the business. Instead of the NBA CEOs attempting to create rules to save them from from themselves , wouldn't the NBA be better off with a training session by David Stern, teaching each NBA CEO how to successfully run his business and avoid the pitfalls of CEOs past?

Really, comparing fast-food chains and NBA franchises? But that would not be a bad idea, actually. I’m sure you proposed that during negotiations.

11. Why wouldn't the NBA consider a rollback on the salaries of the presidents and general managers who mismanaged their teams and were the ones ultimately responsible for their financial problems?

Again, I’m sure you proposed that. What about the Spurs, considered a model for how to run a franchise? They’ve lost money over the last couple of years. Is that their fault? Or maybe it has something to do with a broken system, which pays the players too much and doesn’t allow for small-market teams to make money unless they are REALLY successful?

12. Political sportswriter Dave Zirin asked me if I thought the concession workers, parking lot attendants, janitors, food vendors, secretaries, scouts, trainers, mascots, dance teams and every other employee affected by this lockout would turn their anger on both sides and follow the lead of other protestors around the country. What if they start "Occupy the NBA?"
I think you should worry about the NBPA and the player’s future and let the people you mentioned above deal with their very real and very serious problems however they choose.

13. If Occupy the NBA were to happen, would the occupiers see the NBA CEOs as the 1 percent who want to impose their corporate greed, power and will on their employees?
No, they would see the owners and the players as the ones responsible for ruining something they used to love by being greedy or simply stupid. If this question is your way of saying you’re “on our side”, I’m sorry, that’s definitely not the case. Yes, this lockout is on the owners, but if the season is lost, it’s on you as well.

14. A few friends of mine told me that although they appreciated my support for the Occupy Wall Street movement, I would never be considered as part of the 99 percent (they made the distinction that I was more like the 5 percent). My question is, if an Occupy the NBA were to happen, would the players be lumped in with the 1 percent because of million-dollar salaries?
Not just because of the salary. Because of your sense of entitlement and the fact you seem to be out of touch with the reality that you are, in fact, a huge part of the problem.

15. While the issues raised by the Wall Street occupiers differ from the issues of this lockout, aren't there obvious parallels in power imbalance?

I’m sure you feel that way. But it’s a terrible comparison, because regular people would LOVE to be in your position and take the “awful” deal you’ve been proposed. There wouldn’t be protests if people were as privileged as you are.

16. Who is in the same position of power as the 1 percent ? Who wants a bailout for their own mismanagement decisions? Who is more closely aligned with the corporate interests from which the Wall Street occupiers are looking to reclaim the country?

So you’re trying to do to the fans what you claim the owners are trying to do to you: you’re trying to manipulate us into thinking that way, but your comparison doesn’t hold water. It’s unfortunate and sad that you don’t see you’re part of the problem, but it does make it easier to understand why the negotiations have been so unsuccessful and why you haven’t given the players a chance to show what the majority really wants. In the NBPA, the executive committee is the 1 percent.

17. More than 46 million people are living below the poverty line, unemployment is at 9 percent, and those who are employed are in constant fear of losing their jobs. Many people are unable to make mortgage payments or buy their kids clothes, much less think of college tuition. And rumors are spreading that unless a deal is reached this week, David Stern will cancel games through Christmas, even as some fans don't know how they will celebrate Christmas. With that economic reality, what if we simply lose the fans altogether?

That would be terrible and you would be partly responsible for it.

18. Do the NBA CEOs understand that if the fan base shrinks that could decrease game attendance, lower TV ratings, lower overall interest and reduce the overall value of each franchise?

Do you?

19. Could the outrage of the fans push the negotiations along more effectively than any labor committee, union, board of governors or mediator?

No. I’m sorry, but you will have to solve this one without our help. I realize we are the ones paying you, indirectly, but we have our own real-life problems to worry about.

20. Why does race always have to be injected into this power struggle? Do people understand that the only color the 1 percent care about is green? They have a lot of it, they want a lot more of it, and they will step on anyone's (black, white, brown, etc.) neck to get it.

It was stupid to bring race into the discussion, I agree. Regarding the second part, if you really feel the owners are like that, maybe you shouldn’t be playing in their league. But of course, as long as they were giving you what you wanted, you didn’t have a problem looking the other way. Funny how that works, huh?

21. During the lockout of 1998, Michael Jordan famously said to Wizards CEO Abe Pollin "If you can't make a profit, you should sell your team." That was then and this is now. Why do people have difficulty understanding that he is no longer a player but currently joined at the hip with the rest of the CEOs of the NBA, who -- like Bank of America, Wall Street and the rest of the 1 percent -- not only want but expect a bailout for their own actions?

Yes, Michael Jordan is acting as a hypocrite. But, as you can see from my previous answer, he’s not the only one.

22. During the NFL's lockout, Troy Polamalu said, "I think what the players are fighting for is something bigger. A lot of people think it's millionaires versus billionaires and that's the huge argument. The fact is, it's people fighting against big business. The big business argument is, 'I got the money and I got the power, therefore, I can tell you what to do.' That's life everywhere. I think this is a time when the football players are standing up saying, 'No, no, no, the people have the power.'" Isn't it interesting how the common theme here is power and greed?

Well, that’s our world. I don’t like it either, but if you think NBA players can change that, I don’t know what to tell you. Actually, I do: you’re not that special, even though the millions you’ve made have led you to think otherwise. Millionaires will never be able to represent “the people,” because you can’t relate to our problems and we can’t relate to your reality.

23. If your boss came to you and said, "Listen, I know we are coming off of record overall profits as far as overall revenue and the most lucrative year in history but we have made some individual decisions that we are not happy with and we need you to take massive pay cuts. We need you to agree to construct the rules so that we can no longer make those mistakes, and we want you to make it easier for us to get rid of you if we choose." What would your reaction be? Would you say "Some money is better than no money," or would you gather the rest of your fellow employees and stand up for yourselves?

This is where you players show how out of touch with reality you are. OF COURSE most people would say “Some money is better than no money”, because it is. If you don’t know, things like that happen quite often, and people choose to take a paycut instead of being fired, ‘cause, you know, they need a job to survive. The other choice would be to find another job that paid more. If you’re able to do that, good for you, but I wouldn’t count on it. “Standing up for yourselves” is nice and all, but if it leads you to a worse situation than you were in originally, it’s just stupid. So, yeah, the owners might be greedy, but you’re just cutting off your nose to spite your face. And that’s clearly not a smart decision. And by the way, your premise all along is wrong. The owners are responsible for what’s happening, yes, but so are you. The league AS A WHOLE is losing money, which means the system both sides agreed to is broken at this point.


  1. Como vai voce? Learning some Portuguese. Very nice response1 you're a great writer man!

  2. Your response is well intentioned, but it feels like your premise is already tainted by misinformation. As other bloggers have pointed out, 'What if the league as a whole isn't losing money?' Now noone knows for sure, but it seems like this (the starting point for the negotiation) should be up for discussion as it was 2 years ago. The NBA seems to have done a good job programming the media to assume it's losing money, which I don't believe it is.

    From recent franchise sales, it would appear that the annualized losses on the operations side of the coin are more than recouped (by the majority of franchises) in the appreciation of their investment in the franchise itself. If I lose $5 million in cash annually, but my investment appreciates by $10 million, I'll sustain that investment as long as I have the cash to maintain the operation.

    That I think could give a little more context for the ire the players are expressing (though in no way absolving them from their partial responsibility of extending the lockout beyond where it makes good business sense).

    In addition, you talk about the players' sense of entitlement, but since when are fans entitled to watch basketball?

    Basketball is a business and legitimate business negotiations are taking place. Players and owners don't own fans anything. We choose to consume their product (or not), but they have no responsibility to us to ensure that seasons occur.

    I don't blame the players or owners for negotiating, I just think the owner's position is untenable and I find Stern's public rhetoric and bluster repulsive.

  3. Thank you for your comment, shazbot. You make some good points, although I don't think they show any problem with my premise.

    I am well aware of the appreciation of the value of each franchise. What I question is whether, if the current system was kept, franchises' values would keep going up. For example, Robert Sarver bought the Phoenix Suns a few years ago for $401 million. After a few successful years, with three trips to the Conference Finals, Forbes estimates that the Suns are worth $411 million. Hard to say that makes up for their losses over the last few years, and who's to say their value will go any higher than that over the next few years?

    About the fan's sense of entitlement, I disagree with your point. Of course fans are not "entitled" to basketball. But without us, there is NO basketball as a business. If they want to keep making their millions, it'd be a good idea to respect the people who "choose to consume their product" and not take it for granted.

    And that was never my main point. I think the players are making a bad decision FOR THEMSELVES if they don't take this offer.