Threat of Decertification Spurs Owners to Deal

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When I got back from my Saturday morning hoops, as Click and Clack guffawed their way through an automotive conundrum, and I was slugging down breakfast and coffee as quickly as my body could handle it, my wife looked over and said, “You must be happy.”

“Why?” I responded.

“You didn’t hear?  They made a deal.  The season is going to start on Christmas.”

I don’t need to tell you that I did a little snoopy dance in my chair right then and there.  After holding my hands aloft in the air and shouting “I can has hoops” for several minutes, I went online to find details.  But I didn’t care about details.  One side, had come to their senses and salvaged a 66 game season.  Stories were thin at first.  Then, this article surfaced on ESPN, which breaks down some of the key concessions made by owners to the players at the bargaining table.

There’s a lot of info in the article, and a lot of numbers.  What the owners gave to the players – I would not call those concessions in the most common sense of the word – seems pretty meager.  After all, the players are still down 7-9% of the revenue.  Players salary ceilings also went down (except for the biggest superstars, who can retain their wealth by hitting benchmarks).  There’s a tougher cap now, as well, which will curb team spending.  The owners still clearly won the negotiations.  With such a favorable negotiation, it makes me wonder what took them so long.  They won hands down.  They did not, however, crush the players and break their will to the point of ensuring profitability no matter how poorly they manage their franchise.

Jordan must be ticked.

So what brought the owners to their senses, collectively if not individually, and allow them to sign a very favorable deal rather than continue to hold out for an insultingly favorable deal?  It was most certainly the threat of decertification and the ensuing anti-trust lawsuits that brought them back to the table.  We said before, the lawsuits were not a sure thing for the players.  So why was the threat so effective in getting the owners to move from intransigence to good faith?  The threat of decertification, and a potential ruling by a judge that the Association could no longer set salary caps for teams, minimum and max contract amounts, draft players, or otherwise act as a single entity worked like a sledgehammer driving the wedge between the big market and small market teams.  There is no doubt that without the Players Union, everything about how the NBA operates and handles player contracts is monopolistic.  Now, I’m sure there’s plenty of lawyers who could suss out the grey areas in court.  But the bottom line is you cannot force people to be in a union, and if there is no union, the Association could not set forth rules as an association of individual business.  So the options would then be to either conglomerate their businesses, or work independently without over-arching financial guidelines.  And if there’s one thing owners hate more than losing money, it’s sharing it.  Also, big market teams would have a good reason to let the Association dissolve.

With no NBPA and no NBA, you see, the New York Knicks, the Chicago Bulls, the Dallas Mavericks, the Miami Heat, and the Los Angeles Lakers would be free to chase whatever talent they wanted, with as much money as they wanted, for as many years as they wanted.  And that, after all, is exactly what the small market teams wanted assurances would not happen.  They wanted parity to be legislated into the Association, and this CBA seems to be a good first step in that direction.  The contrasting option, an every-team-for-itself league, would have decimated them worse than a full decade of Billy King contracts.

The dirty secret of this lockout was that it wasn’t a rift between the owners and the players that was keeping a deal from happening, it was the rift between the small market and big market teams.

There is no way this CBA resolves these issues permanently.  This fight will come again.  But for now, hoops fans, forget about all of that.  Sit back, an enjoy the thought that you are only one month away from NBA basketball – the worlds finest athletes, playing the world’s best sport, on the world’s biggest stages.  Finally, the fans, the cities, the workers win.

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