Let Them Watch Hockey


Sorry, wrong 'Toin.

As the story goes, around 1780 during a famine in France wherein most French peasants and working class could not afford bread, the main staple at the time, Queen Marie Antoinette uttered the phrase, “let them eat cake.”  Though the story is anecdotal, it speaks to the obliviousness of the upper class at the time.  It’s a famous expression that is sadly still applicable today (tax breaks for millionaires, while 9-11 first responders can’t get a crumb from the government?  Putrid.).  One of the realms that the sentiment behind the story is quit applicable in is the NBA labor dispute currently raging behind the scenes of one of the most interesting and exciting NBA season in over a decade . . . you know, since the last lock-out.  At the core of the dispute is the NBA league office’s insistance that player revenue must be cut by $700-800 million per year for the NBA to be a viable business.  The NBPA obviously doesn’t want salaries cut by such a gigantic percentage (40%).  Lost in all of this are the fans, and the health of the sport, both of which will suffer from the inevitable lockout.

Here at Double Dribble, we’ve often said that management demands in the latest rounds of collective bargaining have been ridiculous.  It is, after all, solely on management that the inflation of player salaries lies.  It was management, not the players, not the fans, that gave Rashard Lewis a 6 year $118 million dollar contract in 2007.  His points per game, rebounds per game, assists per game, and shooting percentages have dropped every year since he signed the contract.  It was Dan Gilbert that gave Larry Hughes  $70 million dollars over 5 years.  He never proved to be reliable sidekick to James (a position they never filled).  It was Billy King that gave Samuel Dalembert $64 over 6 years.  He has averaged 8 points and 8 rebounds over his career.  Last year, Joe Dumars decided to spend $90 million dollars on Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gorden over 5 years.  They might be worth half that.  The list can go on and on indefinitely.  The fact of the matter is management was foolish to offer these and many other contracts.  The players would’ve been fools to turn them down.  And in the end, it’s the fans who suffer, as they are forced to watch their team’s resources squandered.

Whoa, whoa, whoa, slow down! I don't give a rat's ass what YOU think.

So what management, backed by The Angel of Stern, as Tony Kornheiser has dubbed the dark emperor, is saying is that they should be immune from their own stupid decisions.  Moreover, they claim that the players are the ones who must pay for their inability to manage their own franchises with any kind of fiscal responsibility – or basic understanding of the monetary value of basketball skills.  This is the M.O. for business in America.  Hide your money in tax shelters, ship off jobs to China & India, buy politicians to lower tax rates and create loopholes, use the Fed to bail out your global financial blunders, and in the end, pass the buck to the consumer.  And it is American business owners that run these teams.  That’s how you end up with Seattle losing their beloved team.  For decades, fans packed the Key Arena, generating revenue for the Sonics.  They bought merchandise, overpriced beer, and cheered their hearts out.  For their investment in the franchise, they were rewarded by a punch to the stomach, and a slap to the back of the head.

In 2006, the SuperSonics were purchased by Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett. After failing to find public funding to construct a new arena in the Seattle area, the SuperSonics were moved before the 2008–09 season, following a $45 million settlement with the city of Seattle to pay off the team’s existing lease at KeyArena in advance of its 2010 expiration. (The Seattle Times. 2008-07-02)

Owner Bennett wanted to the tax payers to foot the bill for a new stadium.  And while he couldn’t bilk them out of hundreds of millions of dollars, he did take the team with him, as well as close to half-a-million in hard earned tax money.  This is the kind of heartless pig that roosts in the mud of the NBA management.

The players, for their part can actually afford this kind of salary reduction.  Most of them are rich.  The average NBA salary is around $4 million per year.  The average household income of an American citizen is roughly $65,000.  However, everyone, even the every-person who won’t make in their lifetime what a baller makes in one year, can understand the position the players are taking.  The economic problems of the NBA are not their fault.  Why are they the only ones making sacrifices to resolve the problem?  It’s a question the owners refuse to answer, and Darth Stern refuses to respond to in any serious matter.  The reasoning is clear.  There will be a lockout.  And the players will eventually realize how reliant they’ve become on tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars of monthly income and give in to management.  Less money is better than no money.  Management will get 80-100% of what they want when all is said and done.  So who cares if there is no basketball until then?

C'mon over, eh! The ice is fine!

As we know from history, lockouts and strikes do long term damage.  Hockey, baseball, and basketball have all recently felts these effects, and in many ways are just now recovering from the public disdain for the squabbling of rich athletes and wealthy owners.  Baseball, for one, has permanently lost its spot as America’s top sport to football, and is in danger of being overtaken by basketball.  A lockout in 2010-2011 would be disastrous for the NBA in ways the owners cannot imagine – because of their lack of basic understanding of basketball and basketball fans.  With the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, and San Antonio Spurs making their final couple of runs at the Championship, and upstart teams like Chicago, Miami, Dallas, and Oklahoma City make runs at the aforementioned titans, the league is poised to generate rivalries and performances the likes of which have not been seen since the 90s.  Almost more importantly, if reports are true, the NFL is headed for at least a temporary lockout in 2010-2011 (despite the fact that they are basically printing money).  Football is far and away the most popular and most watched sport in America.  With a giant hole in the viewing habits and attention span of fans and a giant hole in the heart of ESPN, the NBA would be poised to capture a massive sports-hungry market.  The combination of the development of these rivalries and the absence of the NFL would generate a landslide of rating and revenue for the NBA.  Instead, the short-sighted owners and their lackey Stern have made it very clear how they feel about that situation.

Let them watch hockey.

2 Responses to “Let Them Watch Hockey”

  1. jpalumbo Says:

    Great write-up Paul. Makes me want to yack in my Wheaties. God. I can’t believe I have to be a hockey fan right when the Knicks become watchable. Ugg… Rangers or Devils?

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