The never-ending saga that is the NBA lockout began another dark chapter yesterday, with the players deciding to disband their union in order to sue the league. The 2011-12 season, which was supposed to start two weeks ago, could very well be doomed.
Honestly, it’s such a messy, sad and embarrassing tale.
Instead of discussing the Lakers versus the Heat, we’re discussing the millionaires versus the billionaires.
Last summer was all about ‘The Decision’. Now we’re being treated to ‘The Indecision’.
It’d be funny if it weren’t so horrible for so many people. Millions of fans are being deprived of watching the sport they love. Those who rely on there being NBA games for their income, like arena workers and nearby businesses, are wondering how they’re going to get by.
Meanwhile, a huge number of fans are turning away and losing interest. They’re taking their viewing talents to the NFL and NHL and, hopefully in Australia, the NBL.
And all this on the back of the incredible playoffs last season. All this when the league was picking up so much momentum. All this when, frankly, things just didn’t need to be this difficult or this messy.
It’s at this point where commentators generally go into why either the owners or the players – depending on their viewpoint – are to blame. It’s easier when there’s someone to blame, after all.
But from an outsider’s point of view – I’m the first to admit my knowledge of the each side’s position doesn’t run that deep – it seems like both parties do say a lot of sensible things.
Owners: “Small market teams need to be able to compete with the big boys.” Yeah, that sounds fair.
Players: “We should have the right to play where we want without being restricted.” Yeah, that sounds fair too.
Owners: “We want to do a 50-50 split of revenue.” Well gee, you can’t get fairer than 50-50.
Players: “In our last deal we had 57 per cent. We’ve already come down significantly from that.” Well gee, the players are being asked to give up a lot.
Owners: “The average salary will go from around $5.5 million to eventually between $7-8 million under our offer.” Um wait, are the players really giving up that much?
Players: “Forget the money. You still haven’t fixed the system issues we asked you to fix.” Yeah, whatever did happen to that?
And on and on it goes.
Both sides are right, both sides are wrong. Both are at times indefensible, both have at times managed to look like the good guys.
So this has moved beyond picking sides. This has moved to finding a solution for the sake of finding a solution – and when you look at it from that perspective, it’s puzzling why games needed to be cancelled at all.
Maybe this is too simple a comparison, but the AFL and AFL Players Association have also been locking horns recently over a new collective bargaining agreement. By the end of the 2011 season, it was clear the two sides were too far apart and there was no way a deal could be done soon without someone caving majorly.
So what did they do? Well, here’s what they didn’t do: let it drag on until games were cancelled.
Both sides agreed to an interim one-year deal for next season that covered only player payments and list structures. The so-called “system issues” still had to be worked out, but the important thing for the game was that no 2012 regular season games will be missed because of the pay dispute.
The NBA could’ve done this. A similar idea was discussed in a recent Bill Simmons column. Given both sides will reportedly lose hundreds of millions because of missed games, you’d think an interim one- or two-year deal would have been in everyone’s best interest.
Instead, we’re left facing the NBA’s “nuclear winter”, as commissioner David Stern described it yesterday.
I don’t pretend to have the answers as far as what a new deal should like look. I can’t tell you what the players should give up and what the owners should offer. I can’t confirm whether what the players did yesterday was as short-sighted as Stern made out.
But as a fan, I can’t help but feel there was a better way.
Surely it didn’t have to turn out like this.