Last Monday’s announcement by players union director, Billy Hunter, and NBPA President, Derek Fisher that they rejected the owners’ latest proposal and plan to disband the union to bring antitrust lawsuits against the league was yet another punch to the gut of every basketball and NBA fan out there.
I understand the mentality of both sides on some level and what they have been fighting for in the negotiation room. Yet, both sides have chosen to be nothing but assertive in their negotiation style, instead of being collaborative and create solutions that would benefit both sides and get the players back on the court.
Now we are seeing the complete breakdown of negotiations and the possibility of that nuclear winter that Kobe Bryant urged both sides to avoid last week. Chances for a complete season are long gone. Instead of watching highlights of the best plays of NBA games on SportsCenter nightly, we will be seeing highlights of what attorneys have discussed in a courtroom or through the press.
Once again, I question if the fans represent any importance to either side. As I said before, I understand that the owners want a system that will allow them to make a profit and remain competitive and the players want to protect their flexibility and individual ownership of their own career, but without the fans none of this is even a possibility.
The greatest source of income to an NBA team is ticket revenue. The more tickets that are sold, the more coverage by the media with television deals. The more exposure of the team in media outlets (television, radio, internet), the more companies will begin a sponsorship relationship with the team. The starter of this method? The fans.
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Based on past lockouts or strikes in professional sports, it typically takes about ten years for the league to rebound from this severe of a work stoppage. The area that takes the biggest hit after a lockout is fan attendance. The last NBA lockout saw a longer rebound due to the second retirement of Michael Jordan from the Chicago Bulls. The Jordan era that attracted so many viewers was over, and a lot of fans left with him.
According to J.A. Adande, “For a moment Kobe Bryant seemed to be the one person who did see the risk to his legacy, including what could be his last shot to match Jordan’s ring count of six. Kobe also needs five seasons of scoring over 2,000 points in order to surpass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. It would be a lot easier for him to make one of those seasons this year, at age 33, then to replace it with a year when he’ll be 38.”*
Adande went on to say, “And let’s not forget that Kobe literally has more to lose than any other player this season, as he was scheduled to make a league-high salary of $25.2 million. That’s why he came out in favor of accepting the owners’ proposed 50/50 offer. He clearly had the most at stake. Maybe now, in his newfound free time, he can finally sign that contract the Italian team general manager kept swearing was a done deal. Arrivederci.”*
The fans are losing basketball and maybe some of their favorite players. Some have already come out since Monday to tell the media that their agents are trying to find a deal for them overseas. Fans want to see players like Kobe Bryant playing at their best for as long as possible. The lockout and an upcoming antitrust legal battle with no timetable puts each NBA career on hold.
Both side’s actions have made it clear that the fans are livable casualties in their negation war. As of right now, I do not know if the majority of fans will fully return to the NBA as they once did. Restoring the golden age of basketball (the 1980s rivalry of the Celtics and the Lakers) seems as unobtainable as ever.