For the better part of the last decade that I’ve worked in politics, I’ve heard the constant comments from family and friends: “both political parties are corrupt,” “politicians only look out for themselves,” “they are only trying to screw over the little guy.”
I have spent countless hours arguing (mostly unsuccessfully) that most elected officials are honest, try to do the right thing and look out for the people who elected them. Unfortunately people get so sick and tired of hearing the two groups bicker with each other they throw up their hands and say both sides are the problem. Now I know how they feel.
There are no good guys in the labor dispute between the NBA owners and players. Everyone from the media to the fans are picking sides in the ongoing PR war. Whatever patience or sympathy I had for either side is about gone.
No sympathy for the owners who manage to lose money in a monopolistic industry, one that has its major expense (salary) essentially capped — owners whining about how tough they have it while squandering their valuable cap space on awful contracts for players who perform in publicly financed arenas.
No sympathy for the players, some of whom have essentially won the lottery by agreeing to contracts that pay them regardless of their success on the court (over half of the top 20 highest paid players last year did not even come close to earning their salary).
Because of some combination of greed, incompetence, stubbornness and ego, the entire 2011-12 season is threatened, and the real losers are the fans and the hard working folks who earn their living off of the sport.
The saddest part is casual fans probably won’t even notice the effects of the lockout (no summer league, no free agency, no training camp, etc.). until midway through football season when hockey highlights suddenly begin to appear in the first half hour of SportsCenter. So some free advice for the two sides, not because I want to make their lives easier, but because I want them both motivated to find a solution.
Owners: Open your books, and I mean really open your books. Unlike the NFL where Roger Goodell is still trying to figure out what type of wine Jerry Jones likes with his steak, David Stern runs the NBA with a velvet glove...with a switchblade hidden underneath. Stern has the juice to force the owners to release the data. If they are really losing as much money as they say they are, they should open their team’s books to the media (and the sudden proliferation of amateur forensic accountants who have popped up during the NFL and NBA lockouts) and let them dissect it for all to see. It may lead to some unpleasant stories (how much would you bet there aren’t a few owner who comingle their team’s finances with their own?), but if they are telling the truth they will build up a lot of good will with the media and the public. It will make the owners look sympathetic for a change.
Players: Go play basketball. And I’m not talking about in Turkey or one of the -stan’s. I’m saying here in America. The biggest asset the players have is themselves (note to NBA players: the preceding statement should in no way be construed to mean that we want to hear your musical talents in any form). The players should form a stripped down alternative to the NBA, sort of a Goodman League for NBA players and let them play an abbreviated schedule (maybe a game or two per week). Get corporate sponsorships to cover travel expenses. Give all the other revenues to charity. As long as the stars are committed to play, people will come and watch. Put it in local gyms or on outdoor courts. It will remind fans of what they are missing. Sell it as Field of Dreams meets the Rolling Stones playing the Black Cat experience.
So to players and owners: You need to solve this problem soon before you damage the financial health of your industry, drive away a generation of fans and unleash a plague on an unsuspecting public: another Kobe Bryant rap album.