Ladies and gentlemen, our long wait is over. The NBA and the NBA Players’ Association reached an agreement on Saturday that has ended the lockout. And considering that the term ‘nuclear winter’ had being used to describe the possibility of a season just a week ago, the 66 game schedule that has been tentatively pitched is about as miraculous as a virgin birth.
For basketball fans, Christmas has come early. Or rather First Christmas. Second Christmas will be Christmas itself, when the season launches with an epic day of marquee match-ups. Originally, the schedule included Boston vs New York, Miami vs Dallas, and Los Angeles Lakers vs Chicago. Now it appears that two more games will go onto the schedule, making chances of squeezing in any family time virtually nil.
But I can’t help but wonder what kind of lasting effect this will have on the league. Did we want basketball back on the television as soon as possible? Well, yes, that goes without saying. But at no point was I able to sympathize enough with the players to hope for the league’s caving. When the overwhelming majority of teams in the league reported losses at the end of last season, asking players to take a pay cut in order to continue playing the game seemed only natural.
Of course, that was always going to provoke some whining, some dragging of the feet, but when it comes down to it, the guys who were going to take the biggest pay cuts were already making millions per year. They’d go from annual multi-millionaires to annual not-quite-as-multi-millionaires.
So when negotiations kept rolling on without much progress, with the Player’s Union absolutely refusing to give an inch, it left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. I understand that the purpose of a union is to protect the interests of its members, and to secure them the best possible deal, but do a group of employees who make such staggering sums of money really need that much protection?
Obviously, the last thing I want to see is owners ripping off some poor, starry-eyed phenom coming out of college, roping him into life-long contracts for pennies, leaving him broke and without real world experience at retirement. If this were a common thing, the Union would be necessary.
But a precedent has been set for players to be millionaires by 21, or younger, and that’s not going to change any time soon.
The contract negotiations came at a bad time, though. As the league and the NBPA were dragging themselves through the gutter of North America’s sporting news, Occupy Wall Street hit, which began as a collective cry of outrage at the growing gap between the rich and the poor in America, the disappearance of the middle class, and the widespread greed that had placed an enormous percentage of the country’s (and world’s) wealth into the pockets of a miniscule portion of the population.
With a global economy in cinders, and with worldwide protests against the avarice of the wealthy, the chances that us feeling any sympathy for a mob of Maybach-owning basketball players was always slim. These guys picked the worst possible time to try and hold onto their percentages.
Millionaires First, Players Second
I have an uncle who has almost completely given up watching hockey. He was born with hockey, raised with it, and has enjoyed it as a player and a spectator for all of his 60-something years. After the NHL lockout, he found he just couldn’t look at players the same way. He saw millionaires first, skilled athletes second.
I can understand where he’s coming from. I find the news of a new NBA season exciting and invigorating, but I kind of hate myself for it. There’s a large part of me that wants to turn my back on the organization, stick to watching college ball instead, where millions of dollars are still just a distant promise.
NBA players should be aware that this lockout has alienated many fans. Sitting front row at fashion shows in Paris and New York does not always look good while your union is trying to secure you more money. Arriving for negotiations in big old S.U.Vs, wearing bespoke suits, does not incite sympathy for your cause.