In the past few days I’ve witnessed many basketball writers bemoan the lack of common sense exhibited by the owners and players in failing to reach an agreement in the eleventh hour of negotiations of the NBA lockout. In particular, both Chris Sheridan of Sheridan Hoops and Ken Berger of CBS Sports (who coincidentally have both done some incredible reporting on this story) held steadfast to their optimism that reason would prevail, and then exhibited bitter disappointment when the actual outcome was announced.
Respectfully sirs, I submit that reason did prevail. It just was a based on a set of premises that you may not have agreed with initially but now in hindsight have become crystal clear.
Consider the following string of logic:
A) Money is the top, and only priority
The owners, at their core, are business moguls and profit maximizers.
Now I know some would point out that if they were really only concerned with profit they wouldn’t give out mammoth contracts to the likes of Eddy Curry or Rashard Lewis. Yet I say that these decisions are different. They are emotional decisions where the instinct to win kicks in and the people in charge make irrational, sometimes desperate moves because they feel it gives them a shot at improving their team. Really, it’s very human.
By contrast when it comes to collective bargaining the owners are of a clear and sober mind. There is no hidden emotional factor at play. All that matters is the bottom line. All choices will be made rationally to serve that end.
B) The owners hold the best hand… and it’s not even close.
In a nut shell, the players have no leverage. To one degree or another, the league is losing money and that means that the union knows they’ll be having to concede something to begin with when they come to the bargaining table. Not a good position to negotiate from.
More to the point, the owners can also afford to scrap an entire season if need be since for nearly, if not all of them the NBA is not the primary means by which they derive their income.
On the other hand, for the vast majority of players who are in the prime years of their career and whose earning power is directly tied to their NBA salary, you can’t tell me they’re willing to lose an entire season based on principle. It just doesn’t make economic sense.
Because the owners know they can outlast the players in a war of attrition this gives them the ace in the hole. In essence, it’s a trump card that the players simply cannot match.
Next Page: For the Owners, why Compromise?