Saturday, November 19, 2011

Occupy Parquet!

A modest proposal for the NBA players locked out from the hardwood plantation.

As a casual basketball fan, I've been intrigued by the NBA lockout and contract negotiations. It shouldn't be a surprise that I side with the workers- the players, who have dissolved their union in order to attack the legality of the owner's lockout.

The players have been making 57% of the league's gross income. The owners claim that they have been losing money with this structure, and want more of the gross for themselves.

The players have certainly been doing their part, as the dramatic playoff and finals series last year showed. How have the owners been doing? Well, they say they have lost money. Which means that they aren't very good at math. They complain that free agency and lack of hard caps force them to over-pay / over-bid for players, as if someone had been holding guns to their heads. If the owners can't mount their infrastructure, marketing, dance troupes, and other activities with $1.6 billion, they should consider getting into other lines of business.

And when was the NBA supposed to be profitable enterprise anyhow? The whole point of having owners is that they are already rich and can give a little back to their communities (and massage their egos) by sponsoring contests of athletic skill that get endless free publicity and to give meaning to the otherwise meaningless schlumps that we are.

Perhaps the NBA has too many teams, and owners in smaller markets appear to struggle to keep their operations solvent. But the owners need to face up to this problem by revenue-sharing and philanthropy, not by taking it out of the player's hides. They are already a monopoly ... they should act like it.

Compared to the players, how much value do the owners add? Very, very little, in my estimation. The teams would be just as, or more, socially useful being publically owned or employee-owned. The current plutocratic ownership concept is a social construct that mirrors capitalist/philathropic relations elsewhere in the society, for very little reason or benefit, especially if the teams become profit centers rather than vanity centers. The fact that the owners can't properly manage a business monopoly and entrenched cultural institution hardly reflects well on them.

What I would recommend is that the players, now that they have disbanded from being part of the NBA structure, meet the lockout with a walkout. They should set up their own league and displace the NBA entirely. They should, in short, occupy the parquet themselves, as an employee-owned league. At first, they will be restricted to smaller venues and limited media, but I think in the age of twitter and youtube, they would gain the necessary buzz with ease, and become self-sustaining. The old franchises, like the ailing Warriors franchise that recently sold for a half-billion dollars, would consequently lose all value. If they gutted it out, the players would eventually be able to take over the old venues, including the classic Celtics parquet.

This conflict is just one small vignette in the larger economic narrative. The NBA owners clearly bought into the right-wing mindset that this would be a good time to crush unions and workers. The economic disaster that the 1% has authored has made them even more powerful over labor by way of extreme unemployment. But I'd suggest that the NBA owners ran into the buzz saw of the OWS counter-narrative, and the players have taken heart in a great deal of public support. The game is mostly mental, after all! The NBA is a uniquely worker-driven enterprise, with little rationale for capitalist ownership at all. The players may still cave, money managment perhaps not being their strong suit. But I think there is a better way, if they can hold out and boldly seize their future.

My suggestion for the new league name? HDL- Hoop Dreams League.

"The man who Mr. Obama asked to be his mentor when he joined the Senate was Joe Lieberman. He evidently gave Obama expert advice about how to raise funds from the financial class by delivering his liberal constituency to his Wall Street campaign contributors."
"Wall Street has orchestrated and lobbied for a rentier alliance whose wealth is growing at the expense of the economy at large. It is extractive, not productive."


  1. "The fact that the owners can't properly manage a business monopoly and entrenched cultural institution hardly reflects well on them."

    Ha ha ha! Best quote I have read yet on this.

    The NBA is so weird with unions. Surely it's a rare union whose function seems to be to try to depress it's members' salaries and playing options?

  2. Thanks, Steven!

    Well, the union functions as a cartel as well, colluding with the owners to limit access by new players/teams and mutually extracting as much income as possible from the current setup. The question is just how the money should be split between the owners and players- only there do they have an adversarial relationship.

    But from my very cursory reading, the NBA doesn't seem to have any special legal status as a monopoly, so I believe the players are free not only to go to Europe, as some are doing, but to form new leagues in the US, once their NBA contracts are defunct, which I think they are.

  3. I referred to it that way because the players disband their union to protest the owners' proposal, and the owners try to legally force the union together again in response.

    Very topsy-turvy from the perspective of a Wal-Mart employee, for instance!

    And the owners want a salary cap in order to avoid a "free market" system of bidding for the best players. So they need a union to negotiate with in order to avoid the things that normal anti-union rhetoric supports ("free" market setting of salaries). But yes, I am sure without the union (cartel, as you said), the NBA would not function as a unified entity like it does.

    Of course, no one wants a NY Yankees situation where one team can buy up all the best players in the league, but there are other options as you mentioned, such as revenue sharing, etc.

    But I am a casual follower of this as well, so I could be wrong in my analysis .....just severely ticked that we are missing out on a valuable year of Thunder play while the team is relatively affordable and many of the players are approaching their prime.

  4. That's an excellent point about the "stop us before we have to face a free market" aspect of the owner's position.

    Everyone pretty much accepts that monopolization/cartelization/nationalization is the only way to make these kinds of national sports work in the way fans want to see.. yet another way that free markets simply don't work. Sometimes they are great. Other times they really blow and need to be managed with some higher consciousness.

  5. PS- We're not losing anything over here with the Warriors (!) ... sorry about the Thunder, though- they are a very exciting team now.