NBA Lockout, Where I Start to Sound Like Oliver Stone

Listen I'm a Lawyer, not some kind of Accountant

We should put the system on trial, man.  I’m telling you, man, it’s like totally flawed from the beginning, man.  If you look at it, the way I have, which is totally different from everybody else, you know that there’s blood on everybody’s hands, man.  It’s a conspiracy, man.

I was watching SportsCenter much of the day yesterday.  Reading through twitter, no one has news or analysis on games or players or anything really.  It’s all lockout and everyone is still scratching their heads, 6 days in.  There is no rush on anyone’s part, just the veteran guys are saying anything about it because it’s sort of an affront to their livelihood and they see that.  This time of year, players and their families are off on vacations.  Hell, if there weren’t labor strife, I bet Stern, Silver and Billy Hunter would be off on a beach somewhere.  For all I know, with nothing happening, they might just be.

Everyone has an opinion, as my dad used to say, opinions are like elbows, you can’t lick them with your own tongue unless you break your arm really bad.  That’s not it…but you get my drift.  It’s come out in the last few days, as things in the NBA Blogosphere tend to, an analysis of some of the Nets financial statements from 2003-2006 by the sports-version of TMZ, Deadspin (they’re the ones showing Brett Favre texts and coach’s wives feet and stuff right?  legit analysis can be counted on from them, if you don’t like it, stick with your hoity-toity bleacher report, okay?).  Then everyone kicked around this guy’s ideas, he’s posted a correction, others have looked at other numbers and people have kicked that around, then added their own layer of “here’s what I think it means,” it’s a right mess.

First it was that Deadspin article, which basically, is only significant because of the actual documents, however the writers own assertion is that the documents are falsified or at least umm, iffy.  Some interesting thrashings came forward, then FiveThirtyEight a New York Times Blog by Nate Silver took a shot.  The fallacy with Silver’s work is that the Forbes numbers that he goes by are guesses.  I asked Bobcats executives myself just in passing about those Forbes valuations and they straight up told me it’s just estimates based on a few actually published numbers they can get their hands on.  The Forbes numbers are a barometer basically, to the health of a team.  That’s why they use them as a ranking, or a comparison between individual teams and don’t sort of dwell on the data.

I saw this from Eric Freeman at Ball Don’t Lie/Yahoo!, he sort of glazes over both articles and adds another one I haven’t read.  Have at it if you want, read the article he mentions but I’ll tell you why I won’t.  It doesn’t matter.  No matter what the fans believe or don’t believe, what journalists want to see, analysts want to analyze, it’s just all sort of periphery.

The bottom line is, there are teams losing money.  Then there are the Lakers, Bulls, Celtics, Heat, Mavericks who aren’t, but if they are, I am surprised.  There are 22 teams losing money according to the Commissioner’s office.  I mean they’ve been saying it forever.  No one can substantiate their claims, however, I don’t think it really matters.  All the owners, therein the commissioner as their chief negotiator, are pissed and they are trying to make the point that it’s a broken system completely.

If there are teams like the Clippers, Timberwolves and the league owned Hornets that can’t keep it together and can’t break through in a market, can’t gain some sort of consistent winning and money making foothold, don’t you think the onus is on them?  Teams have changed hands at a pretty fair clip over the last few years.  I think that the basis of teams as investment opportunities for millionaires is at issue.  Bob Johnson wanted to own a team but he’s also a billionaire businessman; he can’t have an entity on his books, that include bank holdings, hotels, casinos, losing money; especially not one so visible as an NBA team.

My theory, if I’m allowed, is that there are a large group of owners, vocal and as important as the ones on top that do not believe that they can make money in their markets as things are.  So, they look to the larger, national and international market; the money pool that is the NBA is something they want to dip into without paying interest (the league loans money, as we found out with the whole Bucks financial disclosure).

Where can the other owners draw money from that they know will be there?  I’m pretty sure that “revenue sharing” wouldn’t fly.  While the NFL has 16 games per team, each are nationally televised.  That national TV money is shared equally no matter how many nationally televised games there are.  There are, what? 15 games every week in the NFL across 4 networks.  Baseball has revenue sharing because seriously, the Yankees with their own network competing with the Pirates, Royals and whoever else?  Get serious.  But still, the revenue sharing can’t be that much when you look at the salaries.  If they had the same money, Yankees and Royals and the Royals only spent what they have, that’d be gross misconduct or something and the Royals owners would be rich beyond all conception.

In the NBA, each team gets their own TV deal.  The Bobcats likely don’t get anything from FSN because they were so strongly leveraged in that whole deal.  So set that as the bottom line.  The Bobcats say “Please, Time Warner can we put our game on something other than C-SET or News 14?”  “Ok dummies, here, put our name on the building and see what you can get, we’ll push you on FSN but only in a few areas and on selected local cable companies, mostly Time Warner of course.”  On the opposite end of the spectrum, there is Los Angeles, the Lakers, not the Clippers and their TV deal was reported to be $3 billion over 20 years, that’s $150 million dollars per year.  So, you see the discrepancy.  But if I were Michael Jordan, I wouldn’t go after The Buss family’s money, it’d be too hard.  Instead, what I think the commissioner has done is led the angry, impoverished owners and the rich baller owners to the feet of the players.  Why go after income if you can go after costs?

You have to get the rich, white, cigar filled rooms of the owners and the commissioner picture out of your head.  You have to quit thinking of NBA owners as slave owners on the front porch of the plantation giving out bread when they feel like it to their serfs.  NBA Players have been getting 57% of BRI, however that’s calculated, that’s a nice chunk.  It’s not the case of rich guys making money off the backs of just regular good-ol black kids from the projects, not like it used to be, it’s a big business on all sidesThe players negotiated certain ways to keep players getting paid for years in previous CBA’s; the mid-level exception, Bird Rights, guaranteed contracts all in the players favor.  If a player is injured, he gets paid.  Like Greg Oden, he’s played a total of 82 games, but he’s been paid $21,795,444 and will be paid something like $8 million next year.  That’s incredible!

I don’t think it’s rich getting richer, I don’t think it’s rich man/poor man, I don’t think it’s anything like collective bargaining or revenue sharing.  It’s business.  It’s how things get done in team sports.  The NFL is doing it as we speak.  The NHL lost a season because of it.  Baseball needed to let its players use steroids for a few years to creep back into the hearts of people who care about such things.  I believe it’s a simple matter of where’s the money coming from, and sadly, some of it has to come from the players.

Do I think it’s a flawed system?  Hell no.  The owners “won” the previous round of collective bargaining.  I think that whole thing, now they’re showing losses by actually opening books so Deadspin and Forbes don’t have to guess, to hopefully make the case that it is a desperate situation because, other than at bargaining tables, courtrooms and other official means, these things are won in the court of public opinion.  The owners whole stance is “It sucks, we suck, the whole thing is a mess, we can’t make money, the players get all the money no matter what and look, look at our losses!  The system is broken!”  and the players, shrewdly take the “We just want to play basketball” route.  The players want to keep it the same but they are willing to make sacrifices because without the NBA they aren’t basketball players, so the owners hold the cards.

It’s like any political battle, any discussion about money, politics or religion; there are fringes on every side and they are usually the most vocal.  I’ve long thought that guys like Glen Beck or Al Sharpton make their money and make what impact they want by going soooooo far to one side that they first gain attention and second, cause a slight change compared to the one they called for.  That’s what the owners are doing.  Their case is that it’s horrible and the whole thing needs to be changed, when all they really want are small changes compared to what they’re stating now.  If they’re saying they want $500 million in givebacks from the previous CBA to the new one, I bet they’d be damn happy with $200 million.  It’s like the negotiations on Pawn Stars, state what you want, accept a little more than half.

I’m sure I’m oversimplifying things but you get the gist.  The players want to play, and get paid and the owners want to open the arenas and collect all the money that comes from 10 guys at a time taking the floor.  It’s just how much are they willing to accept and how much are the players willing to give up.  You have to ask for much, much more than you’ll be happy with if you’re the owners.  Players are shrewd business men for the most part, or have surrounded themselves with such.  The agents are geniuses, the guys at the top of the NBPA are pretty swift themselves.  It’s not millionaires versus billionaires.  It’s a handful of billionaires, a smattering of investment companies, a few leveraged individuals and a pile of lawyers up against some multi-millionaires, we’re talking quarter to half a billionaires, some dudes doing well that have made enough money in 10-15 years to last them and their families the rest of their lives, some dudes hoping to scrape by and live the dream and some guys that will claw their way in, make a couple million dollars and lose it all, with their teams of agents (who are lawyers for the most part), lawyers, businessmen and they’re all fighting over billions of dollars that will be there year after year, as long as the product is good.

It’s splitting up a massive pie.  57%, 48% of basketball-related income for your immeasurable talents, when that’s the only game in town.  Yeah, I’d fight hard if I were on either side, but really, I just want to spend like $500 to maybe $750 (if I buy beer) at games over next season, having fun with my friends, watching my team play ball.  Figure it out, you rich-ass bastards.

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