NBA Owners are Playing With Fire

Something just hit me, reading accounts of the Philly game, the IMPACT league, and the Jimmer game.  NBA owners may want to be in the same situation as the NHL owners.  But the situation is very different and it could really come back to bite the owners in the ass.

I've advocated for the players to take steps to create a collective players league, and they haven't done it yet.  But they have successfully put on some exhibitions.  I think that players signing in Europe with opt-outs, or non-superstars (sorry Wil) signing without opt-outs doesn't scare the owners much.  But players making such a big splash putting on events like the Philly game?  If the owners aren't scared, they should be.

There are a lot of annoying basketball fans, usually youthful ones, that seem to be fans of individual players as much or more than they are fans of a certain team.  Often, their team allegiance will follow a player from team to team - much more so than in baseball.  Maybe that's because baseball, football, and hockey games cannot be as dominated by a single player.  Maybe that's because there are only 5 players on the court at any given time and there is litlle inherant structure to the game.   There are 5 loosely defined positions on a basketball team and each can control the ball as much, or as little, as any other.  In any case top basketball players are rock stars to a much larger extent than they are in the other leagues.  And as much as it annoys me, it puts the players into a better bargaining position.  They have a lot of personal drawing power.

Also, it's pretty easy to organize a basketball game.  You need 10 players, a ball, and a couple of amateur refs that mostly stay out of the way, two basketball goals and an empty gym or arena with seats, and it seems like there are plenty of those.  Think how much harder you'd have to work to put on a baseball game, with at least 18 guys, bats, a bunch of balls, a ballpark with MLB outfield dimensions.....  Or a football game, with at least 22 guys in pads, or a hockey game requiring an ice rink.

I think that, given the nature of the fans' relationship to basketball and its players, that the fans will flock to see the basketball players play, whatever the situation.   The Philly game was well attended, and created quite a buzz.  Sportswriters were there, tweeting about it throughout the game.  This is an exciting thing that has fans asking "When's the next one?"  I don't think the NHL players had the ability or the wherewithal to do that.

If the owners hold firm and try to force a draconian deal on the players, not only can the players make a living in other parts of the world - they have the option of continuing to do these exhibitions and mini leagues.  And they're going to get good at organizing them.  Right now, the money is going to charity but the money could just as well start going into the players' pockets.  If the owners don't act, these things keep going on through the winter, building buzz until it becomes a small step to a player-owned league.  And if that happens, the NBA owners entire investment in their team - every penny - goes down the fucking drain.

In 1999, I think a lot of people subconciously compared the 99 lockout with the 94 baseball strike.  The owners benefitted from much of the public not knowing the difference between a strike and a lockout.  Also, Patrick Ewing made the mistake of claiming poverty and it was unseemly.  This time, being that the last three work stoppages have been lockouts, including one that killed an entire NHL season, I think fans are onto the owners position more.  Also, the players have played this well.  They're not claiming poverty, they're just going out and keeping themselves and basketball in the public eye, plugging their personal brands.  Fans still love these players and are not particularly loving their owners - especially because most owners have made a bunch of horrible bonehead moves under the current CBA.

I think that most of the owners are smart enough to see the position they're in and will consider a deal with some givebacks to be a victory at this point.  That's why I'm optimistic that a deal happens soon.    However, if a few small market owners refuse to cooperate and insist on playing hardball and try to impose an NHL type deal that tanks a season, I think we're going to see the owners left with no option but to end the lockout and continue under the current CBA, or lose everything.

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