Q&A With Bob Levey
Today Bob is taking your questions and comments about the NBA lockout. Bob is a former assistant sports editor for the Post and has covered the NBA. Most importantly, he is one of the great NBA fans.
The league has already cancelled the first month of regular season games and the talks are at an impasse. Will the entire season be cancelled? What impact will the shutdown have on the NBA's future?
Charleston, S.C.: Why is it the players don't seem to understand that fans are just plain fed up with the ridiculous , outrageous salaries? Are they oblivious of this concern or is it they just don't care? Do they realize how long it took the greatest player of all to make the big bucks? Earn the right like he did. I'm speaking of MJ of course.
Bob Levey: Players do understand it. Management doesn't. Management thinks that fans will forgive everyone as soon as the lockout ends. Previous labor messes in baseball and hockey argue loudly that that won't happen soon, if ever. Of course it took Jordan ages to make huge money. But Jordan, to his credit, hasn't forgotten that. He could easily have sat out this strike could have failed to join the union, for that matter. The fact that he is a loyal member means to me that he understands how easily all these riches can disappear.
Washington, D.C.: The owners are holding players' salaries and their pockets are getting full. The owners are at the same time losing out on ticket sales and the revenue that comes from sales at games. How much does the lost revenue account for and will the owners actually come out ahead?
Bob Levey: The owners are losing zero revenue in one sense, because they are getting all the TV money, even though no games are being televised. That gives management a huge upper hand. They can pay their managers (and themselves) without it pinching. However, the league as a whole is losing about $200 million a month in ticket and concession revenues no small potatoes, even by Fantasyland NBA standards.
Arlington, Va.: Why should I care what happens to the players and owners in this labor dispute? These folks make more money in a month than many developing countries, and all we hear about are the complaints that these guys aren't making enough money. What we see too often are discipline problems, substance addiction, interpersonal relationship problems, and the like. Many of these guys haven't really ever been challenged to participate in society. For what we pay for the privilege of attending a game, they should be on their knees thanking us. GIVE ME A BREAK!
Bob Levey: You don't pay $75 a ticket to watch social paragons. You pay to watch ball and these guys provide it, beautifully. So please stop with the business about how these players are hooligans and criminals. If that really mattered to you or anyone else, the stands would be empty. And how can you blame them for accepting the kind of bucks that owners throw at them? They are lucky, sure. But wouldn't you take an a salary of $2.6 million a year (the NBA average) if some rich dude wanted to give it you?
Bethesda, Md.: Do you foresee a point in time when fans will turn their back on professional basketball to such an extent that owners will be forced to lower ticket prices and/or players will be required to take a significant pay cut?
Bob Levey: No way, thanks to Corporate America. The entire sport is built on those sky suites and courtside boxes. Companies pay those tabs, not individuals like you or me. It's a great way to do business and to write off the entire cost of doing it. There's no way to return to the thrilling days of yesteryear, when tickets were sold at the gate to mere fans. As for lowering ticket prices, you've got to be smoking forbidden substances. No business ever drops prices not the NBA, not your business, not mine.
Silver Spring, Md.: Bob You say the owners are doing OK, but how about Abe Pollin? He must have a crushing mortgage to pay on MCI Center. Is he heading for bankruptcy court?
Bob Levey: Please give me a moment while I dry my tears. OK all set. What you're forgetting is that Pollin has a franchise that's worth $200 million. He paid about $1 million for it. That's a huge imbedded profit. True, it's not cash in his hand. But any time it all starts hurting Abe, he can sell and he will be fabulously rich. Incidentally, there's no mortgage on MCI. Abe built it out of his own pocket cash on the barrelhead.
Rockville, Md.: Am I the only one out here who already misses being able to watch da Bulls on WGN and the NBA on TNT?
Bob Levey: I miss it big-time. Can you actually bring yourself to watch hockey on TV? It's slow death by boredom. Even the ESPN highlight shows seem threadbare.
Washington, D.C.: Why don't the players and owners decide to play this season under the existing contract and negotiate during the season? Also, they can base any new contract on this season's revenues!
Bob Levey: You don't understand labor negotiations very well. Each side decided to take on the other because each sensed that there was a major gain to be made right now. Playing this season under a "continuing resolution" would only take the wind out of each set of sails. It wouldn't resolve a thing. And it wouldn't mean that the big issues are any more resolvable a year from now.
Woodberry, Va.: With the current impasse between the NBA players and owners, sports fans have lost an outlet through which to channel their interests. How do you think that the NBA strike will affect the popularity of other winter sports like college basketball and NHL?
Bob Levey: College basketball was already on the upswing in terms of popularity. Now it'll SURGE! As for hockey, I'll have to hold my nose and admit that its ratings will increase, too, although I can't for the life of me figure out why. Aren't hockey fights the most absurd thing this side of Jerry Springer? Aren't 30 faceoffs per game a total bore?
Rockville, Md.: Will this hurt the league in the long run like the baseball strike did? I actually don't care if they ever come back and prefer to watch a college game.
Bob Levey: Long-term damage is the biggest danger. How dumb are these owners if they don't understand that. All they have to do is look at baseball, which was deep in the Dumpster for four seasons after the 1998 strike. The true hilarity of it all: The owners put themselves in this position in the first place! They and only they started paying these astronomical salaries. Now they want the players to help them control themselves. Laughable! Put it this way: Do you think a single player wouldn't have played for the last 10 years at 70 percent of what he made? Where else are these guys (or anyone else) going to make $50,000 a week?
Arlington, Va.: In your opinion will we have an NBA season ? What will it mean to basketball if there is no NBA and Michael Jordan retires, along with the aging stars Ewing, Barkley, Drexler, Hakeem Olajuwan? The talent pool in the NBA has declined and without an NBA season the appeal of basketball would decline. Many of these young players are thugs and they seem to not have a desire to play for the team or for winning, they seem to play to sell products or promote themselves. As a fan, I am not interested in watching these young players play if they do not have the discipline, perseverance, and a commitment to excellence that comes with being a good basketball player. The game deserves better and these young players do not respect the game because the are to busy in improving their image instead of improving their game.
Bob Levey: I think we will have an NBA season, although I can't say when it'll start. I suspect the whole thing will drop in the lap of a federal mediator one of these days (Question: Why didn't it drop there a month ago?). As for the younger crop of players, I agree totally. One of the key reasons why Jordan must not retire (ever!) is that he understands how to win. The Allan Iversons understand only how to show off and turn the ball over eight times a game.
Vienna, Va.: Wasn't there supposed to be another major sport being played about this time of year?
Bob Levey: I think they play it with a round, orange ball and a net. Or is it a peach basket?
Washington, D.C.: Hockey is boring? You're telling me that you enjoy watching one-on-one isolation plays 40 times a game? Intentional fouling which makes the end of games just a parade to the foul line? Games where everyone tries to make the highlight reels by dunking as opposed to actually showing real basketball skills? I'm sorry, pro basketball is extremely boring compared to hockey, even compared to college basketball.
Bob Levey: Why did I know I'd rattle some hockey-head's chains? I will agree that watching free throws does not make my blood run hot. I will strongly agree about intentional fouls. But when NBA players want to soar and swoop and shoot and sprint, there ain't nothing like it, anywhere else. These guys are athletes. They are incredibly talented and that goes for the 12th guy on the bench. Hockey players are only marginally talented.
Sanford, N.C.: What can be done to avoid this in later years?
Bob Levey: If the TV networks squeezed the NBA and the players by saying no one will see a nickel if there isn't labor peace, I think you'd have your answer.
I believe the NBA is missing the point in the current lockout. Could you address the issue of unsold seats in the arena? In Detroit, I used to be a season ticket holder, but no more. You can always buy a ticket and the Pistons generally give them away rather than have empty seats. Also, in Toronto, seats are empty. The NBA has priced itself out of most sports fans' threshold, leaving only poor seats available. Many of these fans are saying no to those seats. Are there any answers?
Bob Levey: Most NBA teams don't have to sell every seat to turn a profit, thanks to the billions flowing their way from TV. The nosebleed seats you mention are pure gravy. If they're sold, that's nice. If they aren't, no one really cares. I'd like to see a giveaway policy in every NBA city, like the ones you mention in Detroit and Toronto (by the way, there's a similar policy here in Washington). It'll be the only way some kids ever see an NBA game in the flesh (although they will have to bring binoculars).
Washington, D.C.: So how did the networks get sucked into such a lopsided contract?
Bob Levey: Two words: Michael and Jordan. He sells like no one else. Advertisers are crazy for the chance to appear anywhere near him especially in a game that matters, like a playoff game. Remember that the networks paid out nearly $3 billion for four years worth of NBA games, AND THEY EXPECT TO MAKE MUCH MORE THAN THAT IN REVENUES! My guess is that they will, easily. But will they make it if Jordan retires? A huge question hanging over the entire league.
St. Louis, Mo.:
Bob Levey: Owners are saying in several ways, "Stop me before I spend again." It's really ludicrous, because they had a winning product without laying out anywhere near as much as they routinely lay out. Agents couldn't make them give $500,000 a month to a guy who plays six minutes a game. The owners did it to themselves.
Half an hour remaining with Bob Levey.
Washington, D.C.: Who do you think is going to win this, the owners or the players?
Bob Levey: Neither. But the big loser will be Joe Fan. No matter how this ends, ticket prices will remain in the $75-apiece zone. If you can afford that, let me know and I'll send you my electric bill.
Fort Worth, Texas: What are members of the media TV and newspapers who cover the league doing to keep busy? Aside from the occasional "They met, but nothing really happened" stories that we hear about everyday. What is the typical "day in the life" of one these members of the media? I work for a newspaper, and our NBA writer has contributed one "The local team's hands are tied" story, but nothing much else.
Bob Levey: Like any labor story, "nothing happened" is only what appears on the surface. A good reporter can still get inside each camp and report on the ebb and flow. Don't worry about the gang on the NBA beat staying busy. This is a big, big story. They know that. They'll keep digging.
What is the problem with the owners and the players at this point? Don't they make enough money?? It's getting really frustrated...
Bob Levey: The problem is that both sides are dug in very deep at this point. The difference between 50 percent of revenues (owners' proposal) and 60 percent (players' proposal) is zillions of dollars. It isn't a matter of whether each side makes enough money. Obviously, both do. It's a matter of muscle, macho and high-stakes poker.
Gaithersburg, Md.: There is something special about taking the family to see a sporting event, but not at $200+ a pop. So, as you said before, the owners are really catering to corporate America. I'll just keep my front row seats in my family room.
Bob Levey: Amen. And if fans everywhere want to see this end, they will follow your lead. The ultimate weapon is a loss of interest and a loss in audience for the TV networks.
Fairfax, Va.: Do you think player ownership, i.e., ex-players buying teams, will have any affect on future NBA/NFL/baseball lockouts?
Bob Levey: None whatsoever. The minute a former player buys a team, he becomes an owner, and he gets "owner disease" (symptoms: a huge desire to make as much money as possible, and a huge desire to pay players as little as possible). Former players may have sympathies with current players, but sympathies don't pay Mercedes leases.
Rockville, Md.: You said that hockey players are only marginally talented. Now I am not a big hockey fan but I like the game and in my opinion it's a lot tougher just to skate on ice than it is for a 7-foot player in the NBA to dunk a ball.
Bob Levey: You've got to be kidding. Is that why any 4-year-old can skate but almost no one can dunk (much less do it in traffic at top speed)?
Washington, D.C.: Why has Nike been using celebs, like Samuel L. Jackson, for their basketball commercials? Granted, they are funny, and it shows that we are sick of the lockout and want to get the season rolling, but why don't they appeal to showing NBA players trying to get the fans support to get this over with soon?
Bob Levey: I would guess that Jackson had a contract long before any of the current unpleasantness. I'd also guess that sneaker customers tune out a steady diet of athletes after a while. If a Jackson pops up between Ewings every once in a while, it'll grab attention. By the way, if you really think Nike would buy time so that an NBA star could lobby fans, you and the tooth fairy must be close relatives.
Chicago, Ill.: Do you think Michael will retire? How will this lockout affect players like Pippen, who are looking for better contracts. Gosh, I miss this game!!!!
Bob Levey: I think Michael's knees and feet and calves and thighs are begging him to retire. But Michael's head is telling him that he is the savior of the game. I believe he would return, if only to delay as long as possible the advent of the Garnetts and Sprewells and Iversons, none of whom has ever won a thing (and none of whom probably ever will). As for Pippen, I feel terrible for him. I mark him up as the third most talented player in the league (after MJ and Karl Malone). He needs to be able to play to earn what he's worth, whether it's in Chicago or somewhere else. Every day he sits, he is losing dollars he has earned and deserves a lot more than most guys in the league.
Washington, D.C.: Even if they do settle this mess soon, the players won't be in any shape to perform up to NBA standards. Why should we pay for crappy games?
Bob Levey: You already pay for them or do you really think that Sacramento-Orlando on a Tuesday night in mid-January is a work of art?
Durham, N.C.: What effect will the lockout have on the chances of various talented college players going pro early? Just look at what has happened to Vince Carter, etc.!
Bob Levey: It's a risk that Carter and the other rookies knew they were running. I'm less worried for them than I am for the veterans. Carter has years ahead of him. Pippen (just one example) doesn't.
Leesburg, Va.: Don't you think that the owners are obviously being more greedy than the players?
Bob Levey: Yes, because they are the ones who established minimums and average salaries through their previous deals. No employer can ever expect to roll back what he has already given.
Washington D.C.: The other day I read an article which said that when Michael Jordan was present at the negotiating table there was some progress in talks and when he is not the negotiators are just bickering. Your thoughts please.
Bob Levey: Jordan is not an officer in the union or a member of the negotiating committee. He just sat in on bargaining one day as all members have the right to do in any union. If he was treated a little better than the union's leadership, it's because Jordan is a god, to players and management alike. When he speaks, they listen. By the way, wasn't Abe Pollin incredibly silly to say "trust us" on the day when Jordan was there? If the players trusted management, none of this mess ever would have started!
Laurel, Md.: The NBA owners should either dissolve the league and start fresh, or do what pro football did and hire replacement players. The current NBA players are arrogant, self centered, and care little for the fans who provide their incomes (outside of endorsement money). How difficult would it be for the NBA owners to do this?
Bob Levey: The replacement-player scenario is being discussed. But it can't be a long range solution. If you wince at paying $75 to watch today's bona fide stars, how will you feel about paying that much to watch a bunch of nobodies?
Bob Levey: Yes, it's about an even split, from what I've seen. Sure, it could affect the endorsement market. In a way, I hope it does. Every time my 12-year-old son wants new sneakers, and they cost $100, and they're named for some sulking, selfish "star," he and I have the same argument.
Reston, Va.: Since the NBA lockout directly affected the scheduling at the MCI Center, why don't the suite holders receive a refund for the reduced programs available at the Center? Are the NBA season ticket holders receiving a refund?
Bob Levey: All season ticket holders will get all their money back, plus six percent interest. They'll also get a discount on playoff tickets (if their team makes the playoffs).
What do you think the effect of this NBA lockout will have on the WNBA?? The women get paid only a fraction of what the NBA players make... Will this lockout draw more fans to the WNBA?
Bob Levey: The WNBA will be a fledgling enterprise until it comes up with its own Jordan. Sorry, but I saw no signs of any such player last season.
Vienna, Va.: In your opinion, which side do you think has more to lose as a result of the lockout? Is there a right or wrong in this situation?
Bob Levey: Players have more to lose in the short run, owners have more to lose in the long run (because the value of franchises can go through the floor you're talking about a potential loss of half a billion dollars in cases like NYC, LA and Chicago). Right and wrong? Those words lost all meaning in this mess a long time ago.
Washington, D.C.: Why did they pay the money if they didn't want to? No one held a gun to their head.
Bob Levey: Because the owners are business people, who have been raised to think that they can one-up the other guy if they buy the top of the line. So they spend, thinking that's the ticket. Very often, it isn't.
Chicago, Ill.: How do you think the Wizards will fare this season?
Bob Levey: Season? What season?
Takoma Park, Md.:
I am a 5'11", 190 lb. male with questionable coordination. What is the likelihood I can get a position as a replacement player in the NBA? I think I got game, and I play real hard, and I'll take the NBA minimum no questions asked.
Bob Levey: You will have to take a seat behind a certain 6-foot, 215-pound columnist whose jumper is still deadeye after all these years (just don't make me run to get into position!).
Washington, D.C.: Look at the $100 million contract on Shaq, Howard, Garnett, etc. That's ridiculous! What are they doing with loads of money? It is out of control and many other players will want similar contract. We got to have a salary cap to control the the spiraling contracts. Don't you agree?
Bob Levey: I certainly agree that a salary cap makes sense. But the owners want that ridiculous Bird exemption in other words, a cap that isn't really a cap.
Pittsburgh, Pa.: Now the rest of the country knows what we in Pittsburgh have known for years pro basketball is useless. We don't want it, we don't miss it and now, with this lockout, the rest of the country will know what we know. Forget about it!
Bob Levey: Ah, but all you have is hockey! How cold your winter nights must be!
Washington D.C.: I would think we the public have to boycott the games once the mess of negotiating is done with to let the players and the management know that the public cannot be taken for granted. Would I be right in having such an opinion?
Bob Levey: I suspect it'll happen. I also suspect it'll be marginally effective, if effective at all.
Mercer, Pa.: Isn't this lockout just a big sham so that Jordan can play a shortened season, coax all his mates to come back for one more year and win a championship?
Bob Levey: Sure could be. It would be much easier on MJ to play 55 games than 82.
Sharon, Pa.: Is this the end of the high priced NBA?
Bob Levey: If you're asking whether the NBA will return to black sneakers and train travel, the answer is no. If you're asking whether every precocious 17-year-old will forever command $100 million, the answer is maybe. If you're asking whether everyone is disgusted, the answer is a resounding yes.
That's it for today. Be sure to join us next Tuesday when we discuss the change in House leadership and beginning of impeachment hearings.