Stop me if you've heard this phrase before: "the NBA's lockout is similar to the NFL's." How about, "now that the NFL lockout is ending, the NBA will find a way to solve its own problems." Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but the NBA lockout is likely to last a long, long time.
How do we know that? The issues behind the NBA lockout are completely different-and far more problematic-than the causes of its NFL counterpart. Some of those differences are well known to most sports fans at this point. Unlike the NFL, which has been profitable every year in recent memory, the NBA has not recorded a collective profit in over a decade. Several big market teams, namely the Bulls and Lakers, have high annual profit margins but so many teams lose money that the overall NBA system remains insolvent. Regardless of whether you buy into the NBA's statement that the league was three hundred million dollars in the red last year or you agree with the players that the league suffered slight losses, no one is arguing that the NBA is profitable. The system is broken and the owners imposed a lockout to fix it.
However, that kind of information makes fans think that the owners have the right of it and will crush the players in due time. Up until recently, I believed that as well. But two new elements have entered the NBA lockout equation: players appear to have saved more money for a lockout than anyone anticipated and many seem willing to find work overseas. The NFL is a profitable league whose players, while equipped with a lockout cash payout fund, had few viable options to play elsewhere. Ready for the CFL or UFL anyone? I didn't think so. The NBA only has approximately five hundred players and most of them can easily find work overseas if they so choose. They may not make quite the same amount of money but those overseas deals will prevent the owners from crushing them financially.
You would think the players have the upper hand, right? They have been banking several million dollars in annual salaries for years, have access to a cash lockout fund, and will be paid to play overseas. But that is where it gets complicated. If the NBA were profitable like the NFL, its players would be operating from a superior bargaining position because the owners would want to operate the league. However, since the NBA has been hemorrhaging money for the last half decade, the majority of NBA owners will make more money by closing their doors than actually playing the season. Without changes in their favor to a broken system, the owners will let the league shut down.
So, who has the upper hand? The owners are tired of losing money and can keep the NBA's doors closed as long as needs be to get a better collective bargaining agreement with the players. But their players are angry and have the funds and employment opportunities to defy them. Overseas opportunities, player movement, and independent global branding of the NBA's stars could do lasting damage to the NBA's stranglehold on the world's best basketball talent. Will the owners watch their league's momentum stop, players' exodus, and branding disappear just to craft a new agreement that favors their interests? Will the players fundamentally jeopardize the health of the world's premier basketball league-and their choice employer-just to stick to their guns and prove a point? That remains to be seen but one thing is clear: the NBA basketball lockout could last for a long, long time.
Read more about Understanding the NBA's Lockout Terms
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