Has the NBA become the EPL?

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As the first full season with the National Basketball Association’s new collective bargaining agreement gets into full swing, now is the time to look back on the ramifications of last year’s negotiations and subsequent lockout.

For all the back and forth of that one tedious locked-out summer, how much has really changed in the NBA? If the activity in this off-season is anything to go by, the answer is: not much.

Part of the intention of the new CBA was to avoid having a league that is dominated by a few teams at the top of the money pile.

Unfortunately, it appears to have backfired. By increasing how much teams are taxed for going over the salary cap – a measure the NBA had hoped would prevent big teams from spending big to get the best players – the disparity between marquee teams and the rest of the field has actually increased.

While the new taxes won’t be implemented until the 2013-2014 season, teams are already trimming off any excess salaries they may have in preparation.

The NBA is now on a path to becoming like to the English Premier League. Now only four or five teams – those with the wealthiest private owners – can go into the luxury tax to get stars. Mikhail Prokhorov and his team, the Brooklyn Nets, are a perfect example.

Prokhorov is number 58 on the Forbes rich list with a net worth of $13.2 billion. He is the fourth richest owner of a sports franchise anywhere in the world and has the added bonus of only owning one team.

So while other NBA team owners like Tom Benson and Paul Allen are forced to spread their billions between NFL and NBA franchises, Prokhorov is free to pump as much as he wants into the Nets. And he has done just that.

This off-season he happily picked up the $90-million-plus contract of Joe Johnson – widely regarded as one of the most heavily-inflated contracts in the league. With the addition of Johnson’s salary, plus the re-signings of point guard Deron Williams and small forward Gerald Wallace; Prokhorov is set to pay $45.1 million to three players on a 15-man roster (the salary “cap” for all 15 players is $58 million).

The remaining 12 players push the team’s payroll to a whopping $85 million this coming season. On top of that, Prokhorov is paying luxury tax – 100 cents on the dollar – on every dollar over the NBA’s current tax-free threshold of $70 million. And this is set to get worse once the luxury tax becomes less forgiving in coming seasons making the disparity between the rich teams and the filthy rich teams even wider.

These figures are so enormous that it makes it all but impossible for any other team to match them. The NBA’s new financial landscape – negotiated with the admirable intentions of trying to level the league’s playing field – has actually created an even more inequality in the NBA .

Between the four major American sports, there have been eight major labour disputes since 1981. This is typical of American sportsmen. Whether they’re in the NBA, NFL, NHL or MLB, US sports stars and also-rans alike feel entitled to colossal paydays .

It’s time we stopped blaming team owners for wanting their investments to earn money and started looking at players unwilling to just play for the love of the game … and maybe a $10 million pay cheque rather than $17 million.

During that summer of labour disputes and complaints. A lot of blame was levelled at team owners for being money-hungry tycoons, and it must be said that NBA team owners are exorbitantly wealthy men (most are billionaires).

But they are businessmen. When they see an investment losing money hand-over-fist they need to find a way to right the ship.

But despite many franchises already bleeding dollars, players were asking for more money and a higher level of contract security. The question has to be asked though; what gives NBA players the right to request more money or better conditions?

If someone told you the average salary of a player was $1.9 million you would struggle to argue they deserved any more money. But that figure is, in fact, the average salary per player in the National Football League and is actually the lowest average salary of any of the four major professional sports in America.

As of August, 2011 – squarely in the middle of the NBA lockout – the average salary in the National Hockey League was $2.4 million, the average salary in Major League Baseball was $3.34 million and the average salary of an NBA player was a whopping $5.15 million.

Even in the context of extremely lucrative US sports, the NBA was the clear leader in terms of salary per player. But despite these figures, NBA players somehow still felt wronged. This was not a case of big businesses cheating starving everymen out of much needed dough.

The people protesting their conditions were, for the most part, multi-millionaires. But, as is the norm in US sport, players refused to recognise the blessed position they were in.

The lockout gave opportunities for members of the National Basketball Players Association to present a united front against the financial injustices they were apparently facing.

Unfortunately, when the collective salary of the ‘wronged party’ is an unfathomably large figure, it makes it difficult to sympathise and impossible to empathise.