Sports fans everywhere are thrilled that the NFL lockout is over and it is back to business as usual without cancelling any regular season games. For the NFL, it was a matter of each side giving in a little bit and coming up with a compromise that each side could deal with.
This will not be the case in the NBA. As the league enters its’ second month of a lockout, the players and the owners are so much further apart than the two sides ever were in the NFL.
In fact, cancelling next season is a real possibility and both sides are prepared to dig in without giving in to the other side. A year without the NBA is the last thing that any fan wants, but the reality is that it may be the only way to solve the problems that the league has.
The NBA is coming off a year were they saw some of the best television ratings especially in the playoffs where the ratings were up 30 percent from last season. Also the league saw a spike in memorabilia sales and the popularity of the sport has grown to levels that have not been seen since Michael Jordan was winning titles in Chicago.
The sad reality is that 22 of the 30 teams claimed that they lost money last year. While teams like the Miami Heat were trying to buy dynasties and growing in popularity, other teams like the Sacramento Kings were just trying to survive in their own market.
“Merchandise sales were up. Ratings were up and all that is great but if teams are not making money than that is a problem,” USAToday’s NBA writer Jeff Zillgitt explained. “The owners are willing to miss games and maybe a season if in the long run, they can be profitable.”
NBA commissioner David Stern and NBAPA union director Billy Hunter are set to have their first negotiating session next week but nothing Earth-shattering is expected to come from this. It will be merely a formality for each side to see where the other is coming from and how far apart they really are.
“That is why they call them negotiations,” Zillgitt said. “Billy Hunter knows that at some point a deal will get done and when it happens there will be one side that will be extremely happy.
“It will not be like what happened after the lockout ended in the NFL.”
Players have been preparing themselves for a lockout over the past year and some may even go play overseas. Last week, basketball’s governing body FIBA announced that it would clear the way for NBA players to go and play in Europe, China and other locations.
Hunter has given his blessing as well for players to earn money by playing overseas, but the reality is that the players will not make anything close to what they would make in the NBA.
Nets star Deron Williams has already agreed to play with the Turkish club Besiktas, but his salary will only be a little over a million dollars, far from the $16 million he was set to make next season in the NBA.
The other reality is that there are not enough spots for all players to go and play overseas. It will only be an option for a small percentage of them.
“There are some things working against players going overseas,” Zillgitt said. “The higher division euro leagues have limitations on how many American players they can have on their roster and do they want to sign a player that can leave them at anytime when the NBA season does get going.
“The other problem is that these leagues play maybe once or twice a week and in fact they spend more time practicing than actually playing games. This can become very monotonous.”
It will become a game of chicken between the union and the owners. The owners will sit out a season if they know they can get the deal they want. It comes down to how long can the players go without getting paid?
Stern has made it clear that they want a hard salary cap and revenue sharing. By comparison, NBA players make about $5.5 million for the mid-level exception as compared to the NFL or the NHL where that level is about $2 million.
The owners feel that if cancelling the season makes it better in the long run, than so be it. They only have to look at the NHL which cancelled the 2004-05 season but now the league has become profitable for the owners.
“The NBA will have a drop-dead date sometime in the beginning of January (to cancel the season),” Zillgitt said. “The owners are asking for a lot but I see where the players are coming from too.”
With all these labor problems, the only people that actually get hurt by all this is the fans. Not to say that the players and owners do not care about the fans, the reality no matter what sport it is, they always come back.
Fans have come back numerous times to Major League Baseball with all their lockouts and strikes, they have come back to the NFL and NHL and the same will happen with the NBA.
“There will be a setback with the fans for awhile,” Zillgitt said. “But leagues have dealt with it before and by and far the fans have always come back.”