The NBA officially canceled games through December 15 on Tuesday, killing 26 percent of the season. The cancellation came on the same day that the NBPA decertified, with 15 players joining class-action antitrust lawsuits against the league.
With players seeking over $6 billion in damages, it would take a very player-favorable deal to get everyone back to the negotiating table. Meanwhile, every day that basketball isn’t played is another day where non-diehard basketball fans disgustedly give up on the NBA, possibly for good.
Of course, the NFLPA also decertified before a new CBA was finally agreed upon. But the animosity with which both sides have treated each other – the owners’ uncompromising demand for a significantly salary-capped league, the players’ uber-defensive unwillingness to believe their salaries might be dangerously overblown – makes this lockout far more hostile, and far more likely to cause irreparable damage to the NBA.
Because while billionaires and millionaires yell at each other over mere percentages, unemployed, angry, everyday Americans just decide to change the channel.
Where’s the Humanity?
Though both the NFL and NBA lockouts were/are first and foremost about money, NFL owners and players found a way to remain human beings whom others could identify with.
It wasn’t just that football players wanted a higher profit share: they wanted accountability.
Despite being the workforce of their industry, professional athletes do not directly benefit from the increased profitability of their companies (except for higher salaries, but NBA owners want to curtail that). Since stock options aren’t available, shouldn’t players at least get to know where all that money they can’t have is going?
Smaller side-issues during the NFL lockout also humanized the two sides. Players wanted better health insurance for retirees, including longer-term care – necessary, considering how damaging football has been shown to be on its athletes.
They wanted lower career-length requirements to get health insurance, which before had required longer service than the average NFL career, effectively meaning only the good players got it.
They wanted to keep the 16-game schedule because they were afraid of even more injuries. Most football fans have realized by now that health is almost as important as talent when it comes to NFL playoff success.
Even rookie wage-earning rules made sense to NFL fans, if only because fans had grown sick of first-round draft picks getting ridiculous contracts without having played a single NFL game.
Instead of the NFL and its two basically human sides – though it might be cynical to say, the death of Myra Kraft humanized Patriots-owner Bob Kraft, and by proxy all the owners – we have two virtually faceless sides bickering over nothing but money in the NBA. The owners speak only through the cold, disinterested NBA commissioner, David Stern. The players speak only through the equally unemotional, equally unsympathetic Derek Fisher.
Can anyone on either side think even a bit beyond his own economic needs? Can anyone see the merits of another argument, or the reality of the damage both sides have already caused their league? Does anyone care? It doesn’t appear so.
Fans Heading Elsewhere
Without anything humanizing to latch onto, basketball fans are left by the wayside. Watching people bicker can be amusing for awhile, but eventually everyone wants to see a solution. Drama and emotion can make a fight more fun to watch – just ask anyone who watches “Jersey Shore” – but absent that, fans are left watching two sides lob criticisms across the vast expanse of the sports media world.
There’s nothing wrong with players fighting for their rights. Without legal protection, management in any industry would probably screw labor every chance it had if it meant more profit. But neither side will even acknowledge that the people who ultimately make them all this money – the fans – are finding it increasingly hard to stay attached to this league.
No one who works two jobs just so he or she can afford to fill up the gas tank of the broken-down car he or she needs to work those two jobs, let alone feed a family and pay off a massive credit-card debt, can relate to people who make 50 times as much arguing over relatively piddling amounts. This lockout isn’t just costing players money: it’s costing the league fans.
The lockout will without a doubt end at some point. But how many NBA fans will remain? How many will come back to a sport they think abandoned them?
No one knows. But those numbers are quickly plummeting.