SALT LAKE CITY – At the end of this month, the NBA's collective bargaining agreement (CBA) expires. Fans are looking at the first potential NBA work stoppage since 1998-99. Despite a hint of optimism in meetings this week, I'm expecting a lockout. There's even a chance when Nov. 1 rolls around, arenas will be dark, unless they've booked a lot of tractor pulls and dog shows.
But unlike the last lockout, which lasted until Jan. 6, 1999, this one should be shorter. The players probably learned from the last time.
Principle is one thing, house payments are another.
I doubt they'll come to an agreement before the June 30 deadline, but the league will be back fairly quickly ?— unless key players get injured by angry fans lobbing fruit.
This is an unpopular time to negotiate a raise.
I know all about supply and demand. I understand NBA players have talents that only a slight percentage of people have. They're one in a million. (Actually, one in 15 million worldwide.) But if I understand one thing better than supply and demand, it's people who don't have jobs, or had their benefits and salaries reduced. None of them wants to hear NBA players talking about "slavery," the way a couple of NFL players did.
If there's one thing that makes people angrier than government waste, it's celebrity arrogance.
Actually, the players have one thing on their side: Interest in the NBA has revived. When the last lockout occurred, the golden era of the league was closing. Karl Malone, John Stockton, Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon and other top players were wrapping up their careers, and interest was waning. Since then, there has been an upswing in interest, thanks largely to players such as Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant and LeBron James.
That goodwill could end quickly, though. All it takes is one remark, like last lockout when Patrick Ewing said, "We make a lot of money, but we spend a lot, too."
There sails the good ship Sympathy.
Reports say meetings between the league and players union revealed slight progress, last week. But the sides are still far apart. The players union is claiming the league is hiding profits. The owners say the league is losing money. Forbes magazine, which has no stake in either, says that in 2009-10, 17 of 30 teams were in the red. I believe that. When the economy tanks, revenue drops.
You can't consistently raise salaries while losing money in any business. Besides, I always thought the owner of a business decided how much the employees made, not the other way around.
It's not like I think the players agree with the owners' demands for a hard salary cap and pay cuts. These days in labor negotiations, there is no such thing as reasonable compromise, only grudging concessions. But eventually the players will fold. It's a better deal for money-losing teams to shut down than to play. During the last lockout, teams were doing better financially.
So plan on the players conceding quicker this time. Sports Illustrated reported a two years ago that 60 percent of NBA players go bankrupt within five years. And that was before the recession had really become dreary.
Athletes often live paycheck to paycheck, or at least have high debt ratio. I see where Carlos Boozer just bought a house in South Beach for $2.35 million. He took out a $1.76 million mortgage. A $590,000 down payment is nothing to dismiss; it's a healthy 25 percent. But what this tells me is that NBA players buy on time like the rest of us. Their cars, houses and toys are financed. So once the paychecks stop coming, the payments lapse.
When the creditors start lining up, the players will take the quickest deal they can to get the checks flowing.
Few things get a person's attention like an overdraft.