Simon Williamson

NBA should be hung, drawn and quartered

2011-11-17 13:26

The National Basketball Association in the US, one of the richest sports leagues in the world, is unable to reach an agreement with the players on how to distribute earnings. Agreements between the two parties, the team owners and the players, on the portions of wealth they should each receive have been bickered over for so long that the first four weeks of the season have been cancelled. And since further negotiations were as effective as Frank Lampard in an England jersey, the entire NBA season is in jeopardy.

Which is a blatant “screw you” to the besotted fans of this sport in its most elite of leagues. We’re talking about a league where the average team value is $369m (that’s a sweet R2,990,260,000). The average player’s salary is over $5m – remember, this means half of the players earn more than that. In fact, the smallest salaries in the league, for rookies, are a mere $473,604 (ahem, a weeny R3.8m).

Now admittedly, the recession and global economy gave the basketball teams a good swat in the last few years, with 17 teams, the most ever, recording financial losses in the last year. So the NBA’s (wealthy) chairperson had a sweet idea: lower the portion of earnings to these (wealthy) players from 57% ($2.1bn) of income to 40% ($1.55bn), saving the (wealthy) team owners some important bucks, and saving nervy investors from having to take risks. The players rejected this through their union, and this collective group of loaded and most consummate (note sarcasm) professionals have been fannying about ever since, with a court motion now being tabled by the players’ union. And the prospect of the entire season being cancelled.

This is a competition in which 70-millon-plus folks watched the final last year. Put that into perspective: that’s the entire population of South Africa plus 20 million pets. It is massive.

Why can’t the disputed money be placed in escrow until a satisfactory conclusion can be negotiated, or an unsatisfactory one is decided by a court of arbitration (which looks most likely anyway)? Each party would have been able to budget for a minimum share of the loot and the season could have continued so that fans could continue to pour more money into it.  No play means no income.

Why can’t middle ground be found, over the course of two years of negotiations, when the amount of money under argument is a massive 17% differential? No progress over 24 months suggests that there are idiots involved. Administrators and negotiators often forget that their purpose is to find a way forward together, not merely to win with all their aims fulfilled. While quibbling over small amounts of money can sometimes go nowhere, it is surely possible to find something in between $2.1bn and $1.55bn? That’s $600m with which to play.

How come the National Football League managed to end its dispute before the season began, missing only one exhibition game? It seems the NBA has a special kind of disregard for those who support it.

There are a plethora of ways this could have been handled, but players and administrators, who have collectively shoved their head up an orifice ill-suited for the purpose, will enjoy an extended (if unpaid) off-season, while their fans sit twiddling their thumbs and trying to fathom American football, or why Canadians begin beating each other with weirdly-shaped sticks as soon as they put on ice-skates.

While I would love to see NBA fans punish their teams by staying away from the courts, it would exacerbate the problem and probably facilitate more negotiations (I use the term in the loosest of senses) if all these poor folks suddenly had to struggle with a bob or two less.

Shame on you, NBA. A pox on your house.

- Simon Williamson is a freelance writer.

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