San Francisco - I'm not a big basketball fan by any means, nevertheless, I've been following the contract dispute saga pretty closely as I feel its precedence is relevant to many sports where labor negotiations take place. I'm sure we all remember the Major League strike of '94-'95 and there are some who never even came back to the game after it was over due to their vitriolic feelings toward a perceived greed.
Times have definitely changed since then in baseball land considering it's on the verge on signing a labor agreement* that will keep things rolling until the 2016 season at least. (*Update: Five year contract signed this evening.) If my math is correct, which is rare, that is almost twenty-two years of unfettered baseball seasons. I'm not privy to all the behind-the-scene goings on, but it makes me feel a bit proud that our sports labor affairs are largely staying out of the media spotlight.
EDITORIAL CONTINUES AFTER POLL...
Normally I wouldn't be inclined to write about or pay much attention to a labor dispute regarding a sport I don't really pay much attention to, nevertheless the context of the current NBA divide has elicited some pretty strong feelings from me. I think it would be different if both sides sat down at the bargaining table with the spirit of the game in mind, the countless people who are affected by season in mind, or at the least how the fans were going to view and make judgements about the dispute. I don't think this was the case. Both sides obviously came right out of the gate with an air of stubbornness. Basketball players have egos the size of the arenas they play in, and I view David Stern the same way I view Bud Selig, which speaks for itself. Were many surprised by the potential of a lost season? I'm going to speculate and say no.
On that note, my main gripe is that both sides after much discussion failed to reach a consensus that would have afforded fans and players at the minimum an abridged season. Now this whole sideshow is going straight to the courtroom to be fought out in front of a judge. The thought of endless ESPN commentary about the case punctuated with shots of Kobe Bryant's Italian Basketball league highlights make me cringe more than usual. Do they think that is what the fans and stakeholders really wanted or expected as an outcome of the dispute? Do they even care?
It is easily overwhelming to think of what is being lost here. Billions of dollars in lost revenues, salaries and taxes. Possibly thousands of fans who will never return. Thousands of people who depend on the NBA for employment, from charter pilots to hot dog vendors, from ticket takers to hungry rookies desperate to hit the court. Hotel rooms will go unfilled and sports bars that would otherwise be full on game night will be empty. And for what? A few million here or there? The right to have an opt out clause in a $100 million dollar contract so you can keep your team in limbo while you decide where you are going to move your entourage?
Granted the players did concede another $300 million dollars when they opted to accept the owners 50-50 TV revenue split, but they then torpedoed the rest of negations over player movement and salary. The other side of the table has just as much blame as the players for allowing it to get to this level. In the end, Stern had a to fire off an ultimatum Jimmy Hoffa himself would have been proud of if he wasn't currently residing under the parking lot of a Hoboken K-Mart.
So the rest of us can continue to struggle financially, try to keep our jobs and homes, save up when we can in order to enjoy our hobbies; and the players and owners can take their Maybach limousines to their mansions and be confident they did the right thing while staring at their no polish manicures.
Not to say there is something wrong with getting compensated at a pro level for your skills. It just would have been refreshing to see the players union and owners put aside their differences and play the season on a temporary contract so thousands of people wouldn't have to suffer from the lockout. At the end of the day, they throw a rubber ball in a damn net hope, they aren't exactly Jonas Salk.
Aside from the loss of revenue, and especially the loss of taxes that deficit ridden cities desperately need, there will be legacies and franchises that might forever be compromised. The NBA in its entirety will never receive another cent or modicum of attention from me ever again. Some also may be no longer able to support a system of selfishness and greed.
I'm proud to be a baseball fan right now. When does spring training start?