NBA action, it’s … been lawyered!
And old dudes in suits in bad lighting isn’t quite going to compete with Aaron Rodgers and Calvin Johnson in HD.
While it is universally understood that “football is king,” and interest in the NBA doesn’t peak till after Christmas, a study offers some interesting context about just what the NBA could be costing itself with this long lockout.
Using online research tools to calculate the percentage of media attention devoted to each professional sport in 2010, HighBeam Research pegs the NFL (28.1 percent) barely ahead of the NBA (26.8) … and far ahead of the NHL (15.6), PGA (12.1), NASCAR (7.9) and Major League Baseball (5.9 – ouch). The NBA was within two percentage points of the NFL in 2008 and ’09, too.
The NFL, however, handled its lockout this year without any collateral damage. The NBA is shooting itself in the head.
Maybe the NBA’s marketers just need to spin it a little better to make it interesting to the public: Black people vs. white people! Lonely player groupies are people, too! Rich people unhappy! Kobe unhappy! LeBron unhappy!
But there are too few likable characters here to make this thing watchable. It’s almost too easy to play the blame game:
The bullying owners overplayed their hand in pursuit of certain profits being handed to them; the players were out of touch with our economic reality. Done and done. Anyone writing about both epic fails is making a lot of sense but stating the rather obvious. Anyone who would disagree with either statement must be a blood relative of an NBA player or owner.
But if you were to play this out as a drama, the guys who would also evoke deep hostility would be the creepy, crawly player agents – even though they’ve receded into the background now that the players’ union undercut certain agents’ grand plan for decertification by disclaiming interest Monday and dissolving that way. Agents are always key sources for reporters, so it’s understandable they haven’t faced much media criticism, but it needs to be said.
Union president Derek Fisher isn’t in any position to claim any victories, but remember back in September how he wrote plainly about the meddling agents in a letter to the players: “It is because they have not come to me once that I question their motives.”
If not for the faction of agents pushing their agenda instead of helping union leaders with theirs, this deal could’ve been done long ago. To be fair, if the union had decertified from the start, as many agents advocated doing without ever negotiating in good faith, maybe this deal could’ve been done by now via settlement also. But decertification wasn’t the path that was chosen – and now here the players are at this late date, filing papers in the courtroom instead of taking the court.
To understand why prominent agents such as Mark Bartelstein, Bill Duffy, Dan Fegen, Jeff Schwartz and Arn Tellem have been so frantic over the players’ concessions to the owners in collective bargaining can be revealed through some quick, eye-opening math:
Seeing 2 percent of the much-discussed Basketball Related Income go the owners’ way instead of the players’ way wouldn’t really do much to the average player, whose $5.15 million salary would become $4.96 million. (That’s $80 million for two BRI points, 430 total NBA players, $186,000 each.)
But if you take that $186,000 lost and multiply it by 27 player clients (the average that the aforementioned five agents represent) and then count the agent’s 3 percent commission (he can take up to 4 percent) and multiply it by 30 years (while the players’ average career is less than five years, the agent will be repping players who aren’t even born yet) … you get $4 ½ million of his own money you could realistically say an agent would lose by conceding that 2 percent of BRI to the owners.
It’s a crude formula not even factoring in annual growth, but the message should be clear: The agents were doing their own money grab this offseason – and with less reason than anyone to care if it happened to cost everyone the 2011-12 NBA season.
So they stalled the momentum of negotiations more than once, staging all their conference calls with each other and pushing their message on players whose competitive streaks jibe with militant pride. It’s undeniably compelling to preach about current players’ obligation to fight against greedy owners also for the sake of future players … and guess who will be taking commission off those future players?
Agents are usually lawyers, which brings is back to that. Lawyers – as David Stern shows – are outstanding at making arguments and doing so with conviction, which is so often the key to winning any discussion. It’s no surprise when so many players turn to their agents for counsel on all their business that they just bought what was being sold all offseason.
Pau Gasol, one of the smartest guys you’ll find in any sport, was left Monday spewing erroneous info from his Twitter account – material straight from the decertification playbook (“This doesn’t mean that it won’t be a season. The union & the league will still have 45 days to get to an agreement before it gets dissolved”), unaware the actual move made was not the agent-pushed decertification. By disclaiming interest, the union introduced totally different rules that don’t allow more collective bargaining now.
Gasol’s agent? Tellem, who wrote back in May an editorial in The New York Times urging NBA players to decertify their union as soon as the season ended to avoid giving concessions to the owners.
Some players were certainly realistic, willing to get informed and wanting to play.
Far too many players simply trusted agents who lack everyone else’s understanding for what it really means to grow the game.