MetroFocus (Thirteen)’s Interview With Harvey Araton

Interesting interview with Harvey Araton on his new book When the Garden Was Eden:

Today’s NBA is a lot more about stars. It’s a league that has been promoted by stars. The league went along with the shoe company mentality of making players who were larger than life. That all started with Jordan of course. Sometimes you get the sense, when they say Michael won six rings or Magic won five, that they did it all by themselves.

I think that mentality is anathema to the players from the old days, certainly the old Knicks, who understood that it was about the whole team and they all had their contributing roles.

I think the marriage of television with corporations like Nike was the most impactful thing. In the decade after Jordan, a lot of the young stars who came into the league thought they could be the Jordans of their markets.

What we saw in the decade after Jordan was that a lot of guys had difficulty co-existing as superstars on the same team. Shaq and Kobe, even when they were winning championships, couldn’t co-exist in L.A. A lot of that had to do with media, the way television shaped superstars and the way that they all needed to have “their team.” There wasn’t room for two great players on one team, and that damaged the sport.

It’s not until the last year or two that the sport has begun to rebound. The younger generation of players saw how difficult it was to be the lone star on the team and have to carry all that burden if the team doesn’t do well. We’re moving back in the other direction now.

And Araton’s piece for the New York Times:

The Knicks were practicing in Detroit when Russell burst into the gym in a foul, angry mood. Coming out of Ann Arbor, where he had been visiting his old school, he was pulled over by the police, ordered out of his car with a gun to his head. The explanation he was given after producing a license and being recognized as the famous former Michigan star was that an African-American man had broken out of prison in the area. Russell had a mustache and so, apparently, did the convict.

Russell’s teammates sympathized with him when he told them of how he had been profiled — at least until he began throwing sharp elbows around during a scrimmage, mostly in the direction of the team’s white players.

Reed, who often acted as Holzman’s cop on the court, recognized what was happening and stepped toward Russell, asking what the heck he thought he was doing. Before Russell could edit himself, he spat out, angrily and regrettably:

“Be quiet, Uncle Tom.”

He told Russell, “This Uncle Tom is gonna be whippin’ some ass in a minute if you don’t keep quiet.”

In effect, if defending his teammates and being everyone’s captain — starters and scrubs, black and white — meant Reed was an Uncle Tom in Russell’s eyes, so be it.

Decades later in Louisiana, his explanation to me was short and to the point: “You can’t hurt one of our guys. You can’t hurt me.”

Of course, those words did hurt, but Reed’s quick thinking allowed the team to escape unscathed, perhaps grow stronger. Had he reacted violently, had he physically embarrassed Russell, the Knicks might have lost their best bench scorer. Given the time to back off and apologize — and not for the last time — Russell remained a vital player and in fact proved indispensable in two key playoff games that spring: Game 7 against Baltimore and Game 5 of the finals against the Lakers.

“I came to see it as a character-building situation, not just for me but for us as team,” Russell said when I called him in Savannah, Ga., where he is an associate church pastor. As for how Reed handled their confrontation, Russell said, “Willis Reed is an amazing man.”

Trusting Guts, Gutted Trust: R.I.P. 2012 NBA Season?

@SherwoodStrauss: Lesson, written in comic sans: Tell people to trust your gut BEFORE you gut their trust

A day after all signs– imparted by two near-ceaseless days of negotiations — pointed to a modicum of progress in the NBA labor talks, a sudden, almost inexplicable breakdown Thursday evening yielded a familiarly tragic face.

With one ghoulish line, Dan Gilbert, Comic Sans scholar and soon-to-be-owner of four newly-minted Ohio casinos, changed the entire tone and tenor of the lockout proceedings. Well, on Twitter anyway. In so doing, Gilbert, who also happens to own the Cleveland Cavaliers, instantly usurped the title of “Quote of the Lockout” from Knick Player Rep Roger Mason Jr., the man who gave us — and about a trillion too many Twitter jokes — “how u.”

“Trust my gut,” Gilbert allegedly told Billy Hunter, assuring the Union Chief that — if the players would simply agree to a 50-50 split of Basketball Related Revenue (BRI) off the bat — the owners would find a way to forge a system agreeable to all involved.

Dan Gilbert, who in the wake of “The Decision” boasted that his lottery-bound Cavaliers would win a championship before the King’s own South Beach troika.

Dan Gilbert, who even a year after the slight continued to bitch publicly about it.

Dan Gilbert, the man who had been bleeding Cleveland long before LeBron James was even old enough to take his talents to a Catholic high school.

Dan $#%&*! Gilbert.

It won’t take long for Gilbert to realize he’s just become Scapegoat #1 in a now fast-deteriorating situation. He need look no further than his Twitter feed’s “Mentions” column — by now so teeming with vitriol that Tarrantino’s already secured film rights — to understand very clearly that, starting now, a third grade temper tantrum punched in a kindergartner’s font will no longer be what blunts his NBA epitaph’s chisel. In an instant, Dan Gilbert rewrote his own basketball legacy, and did so in the most cartoonishly absurd Wingdings imaginable.

But nor will he walk that plank alone. Joining Adam Silver on stage immediately after the talks had broken up (David Stern was home with flu-like symptoms) was Spurs owner Peter Holt. Holt, it’s been reported, fired his own fair share of bullets during the meetings, reportedly telling players they “haven’t suffered enough yet” to truly understand the implications of their uppity Haymarket bullshit. When asked [presumably] about precisely why the BRI talks had gone so south so quick, Holt’s response summed up ownership’s tenor rather nicely:

“There are certain things we must have,” he posited. “So that’s how I’d answer that question.”

Conventional wisdom has it that a handful — maybe six or seven — of the “small market” teams had made it clear during an earlier meeting of the NBA Board of Governors that under no circumstances were they willing to go above the aforementioned 5o-5o split. Meanwhile, larger market owners– including James Dolan, who left the meetings rather abruptly mere minutes before talks were officially halted–  remain willing to negotiate.

Unlike their counterparts in Memphis and Cleveland, the beefs harbored by Dolan, Jerry Buss, and others atop the revenue food chain have more to do with system issues (revenue sharing, “Larry Bird” rights, etc.) than with the broader economic landscape. Without so much as a consensus amongst themselves, ownership essentially reverted back to their default position, sending Blazers owner Paul Allen — a guy who has an arena in his house — to deliver it.

Earlier in the afternoon, many a Tweeter suggested that the absence of Stern — as vilified as the near three-decades long commissioner has become — might help foster a more constructive atmosphere. Not so much.

In the wake of perhaps the single most destructive negotiating session in 12 years, many are left wondering whether “Stern the puppet” hasn’t been more “Stern the ego-herder” all along; a once forward-thinking beacon numbed by his own success into beliefs at seeming odds with his preferred politics, saddled with the burden of championing a clientele in whose methods he’s forced to feign allegiance. We may not like him. We may wish he’d taken to Treasury checks years ago. But, with reality being what it is, it’s clear that no deal can be done without him.

Instead, we were treated to Paul Allen bearing the Board of Governors’ “take it or leave it” edict, a move that stunned the Union and, in turn, anyone who still cares about this nightmarish lockout.

“We couldn’t believe it,” quipped Union Attorney Jeffrey Kessler in response.

That makes millions of us, Jeffrey.

Making matters worse, not ten minutes after Union reps had emptied the podiums, the Twitterverse teemed with half-hearted, half-assed platitudes — or worse, deflective drivel — from both sides:

CP3: Sad day for basketball fans everywhere, “Take it or leave it” is what we heard from the owners so here we are…apologies to the fans!

Amareisreal: Good night people, Stay True an Smart. Don’t them tell you anything, study for your self. Shalom.

cavsdan (Dan Gilbert) Now need the Browns to win or will be a rough Sunday all around….

andyrautins1: Thursday. You know what time is!

Alright, just ignore the Rautins one.

Whatever happens in the days and weeks to come, both sides — aided as they are by 21st century media — have made it quite clear that the PR battle will rage on, even if actual discourse is shelved.  If that happens, however, and we’re forced to wait until early or even the middle of next week before both sides are brought back to the butcher block, well, you can forget about the NBA trending harder on Twitter than the World Series. Like, ever again.

Where does all this leave us? In the middle of a $#!& sandwich, where one slice is a steaming $#@&!^*, and the other is a @#$%&*!. That’s where.

During their own negotiation’s dog days, NFL players and owners met 16 consecutive days. NBA principles barely got through three. Whether this points more to disparate senses of urgency, or the simple recognition that sharing is much easier to do in harvest than in drought, the NBA won’t be doing itself any favors PR-wise by continuing with the French workweeks.

Which is precisely why George Cohen, the Obama-appointed Federal Mediator commissioned to aid in the NFL talks, was summoned in the first place: To lend a sense of public urgency to a situation which had for too long been conducted in a kind of bemused, half-knowing stupor by all involved.

Then, after talks adjourned Wednesday — the two sides had met for a combined 24 hours in a 32-hour span — Cohen made a beeline to the hotel bar. At the time, many took  the act as a bad omen, only to be put at least temporarily at ease when it was quickly announced that the two sides had agreed to meet for an unprecedented third day.

Now, a little over 24 hours later, I doubt I’m alone in saying that I’ll have eight of what Cohen had. And probably more than three days in a row.

Why We Love the Game

My greatest gift that I have in life is basketball- Isiah Thomas

As we begin the third week of October it appears that much of the 2011-2012 basketball season will be lost. There are a number of very real economic consequences which will accumulate from the loss of games, not only from the number of employees that have been let go from their franchises, but also from the decrease in business for numerous restaurants and stores close to arenas. Livelihoods are threatened. Much more rides on this lockout than just a game. And yet, while many fans of the NBA will make this observation and sympathize with those put out of work, I imagine that the loss they will feel the most will come when they are unable to root for their team as the winter months stretch onward. This symptom is found within all of fandom: rational humans who understand that there exist far more important issues and problems within our world will devote countless time and energy to following a game, led more by their heart than by their head. To be a true fan is to appreciate what the Knicks’ much-maligned former executive realizes: the game of basketball is a gift.

And so what is the response when this gift is taken away? What can possibly fill the void in an adequate manner? To figure out a solution requires an understanding of why fans love the game of basketball and the NBA. I was prompted to think about this question by Zach Horst’s article defending the view that a player-led league would fail to carry the interest of true fans. The article prompted a heated debate among commenters (some of whom disliked the use of the phrase true fan, others of whom disagreed with the thesis of the argument.) I believe that a separate basketball league could succeed in attracting fans as long it could understand and act in a way that recognizes what constitutes fandom. It would need to understand what drives passion to such irrationally high levels. It would need to understand the sorts of things that make fans frustrated. It would need to understand why we love the game.

“Dribble, pass and shoot. I always thought it’s the way the game was supposed to be played.”

Byron Scott

Appreciation for the beauty of the game of basketball is a good place to begin analyzing why fans can be driven to such irrational devotion. The reason why fans would choose to concentrate on basketball over other sports must be found within the game itself. The precise geometry required for success, the way in which the game lends itself to showcasing incredible athleticism, and the concept of five players working together as one; all contribute to an appreciation for the game. The degree to which a person cares about the previous three factors is an important factor in determining if they favor the professional or college game. College enthusiasts obstinately repeat Scott’s sentiment that there is a “way the game [is] supposed to be played.” Fans of the NBA may be more likely to appreciate the incredible athleticism necessary to be a star in the league, while harboring frustration that college fans believe that a lower shooting percentage could somehow represent a purer form of the game (I think it’s obvious what camp I fall into.) While fans often think of offense when describing the way the game should be played, it is equally important that defense is active and of a high-quality. When defense breaks down too frequently, it becomes too easy to score, and contributes to the perception that those playing the game do not care about its result (a perception we will deal with in a moment.) This is one of the first issues an outside league would have to overcome, but it is not true that only the NBA could convince players to play defense. If the league was structured in an organized manner, fans could be drawn to the quality of basketball just as if it were the NBA.

I’m a fan myself and I’m frustrated just as much as them when we get beat. –

Steven Gerrard (Yes, I snuck a soccer quotation in.)

Even more important is that the games manufacture a heightened sense of importance, so that fans act as though something is life and death when in fact it is entirely the opposite. This is exactly why the exhibition games do not fill the need for basketball. (They are, by definition, fairly empty of meaning, except insofar as they can reinforce beliefs we already held, such as when d uring a recent exhibition Carmelo’s three-pointer with a second left to tie the game confirmed our sense that he is “clutch.”) Fans need to feel hurt and frustrated when their teams lose, and they need to feel elation when their teams win. This emotional connection is built up through repeated traumatic and ecstatic experiences. The best way to begin creating these experiences would be for the players in the new league to exert visible effort each and every play toward the eventual goal of a championship. As a general rule, the enthusiasm a team’s fans have for its success or failure cannot noticeably exceed for a long period of time the importance a team’s players place on the game. When teams appear to have lost the will to win, (Hello, several Knicks’ teams from the mid-2000’s) fans’ energy and interest is slowly sapped from the game. This is something separate from simply losing a lot of games; many fans have stuck with their teams through downtimes, often in support of young teams which lost incredible numbers of games. So long as the players are giving their all, fans can remain invested in the team’s success. Creating a large end-of-season playoff would provide the do-or-die mentality necessary to motivate the players effectively each and every game. It would also help to create the searing memories that cause fans to form intense attachments to a team.

Basketball is in my blood. It is my obligation to try.

Hakeem Olajuwon


I played basketball to try to get my parents from working so hard.

James Worthy


A potential league could fail if it did not appreciate fans’ distaste for overt commercialism. When Zach wrote that it was unlikely anyone would care about a game between Kobe’s Denver Citibank Armadillos vs. Lebron’s Akron MetLife Wildcats, he certainly was correct, but I’m not sure he was correct in analyzing why people would not care. Fans of the NBA do not appreciate when players play the game for money because that reason does not line up with why fans love the game. As with many things in life, it is not enough to enjoy the same thing as someone else; fans would like to believe that players share the same reason for enjoying the game as they do. It is widely assumed that anyone who does not play “for love of the game” will fail to exert the same effort as someone who does love the game. One might wonder if this is a fair assessment. Consider the two quotations above. Who will be more motivated? The player who loves the game, or the player who works so that his family can enjoy a better life? Playing a game one loves is easy. Doing anything that you do not enjoy so that you can benefit others should be recognized as both difficult and noble. We glorify those who work rotten jobs to support their families in other areas of society; in sports, we vilify those who lack love for the game because we cannot imagine not loving the game ourselves. To put corporations in the teams’ names would bring the raw commercialism of professional sports too close to the surface for fans’ sensibilities. Much as the lockout is currently doing, it would remind us that money is more of a force in the game than we would like to realize. However, it is not as if a renegade league would have to take this step, so this is not a fatal flaw. Amend the statement to, “Would you watch a game between Kobe’s Seattle Sharks vs LeBron’s Akron Admirals?” and I imagine a number of fans would be quite interested.

All I care about is money and the city that I’m from-


The easiest way to appeal to fans would be to draw upon the instinct Zach identified in his article and depend on fans “supporting their city.” Our support for our city is not merely a random allegiance due to where we happened to have been born, but rather a product of our memories and experiences within that city; an attachment of a similar kind as the one created over time with a sports team. Using the draw of “Support Your City!” as an initial hook, a renegade league could then let the Shakespearean drama that is basketball draw fans in on its own. Basketball is one of the most personality-driven sports. There are no helmets hiding players’ facial expressions. There are regularly moments when players are called upon to to rise to the occasion and come through in the clutch, moments which will undoubtedly result afterward in psychoanalysis of “who exactly a player is,” and questions about their ability to perform under pressure. There are a wide-enough range of personalities that every casual fan can find a player who they identify with to support; while some appreciate Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose’s quiet drive, others are drawn to Carmelo and Kobe’s prima donna swagger. Finally, it is important to remember that while the players are important-incredibly important- like any good character in a dramatic story, to be fully appreciated they require the right plot and stage.

Basketball is basketball.

Oscar Robertson

What barnstorming exhibition tours prove is that there needs to be an organized league in place for fans to care about basketball. What they do not indicate is that the NBA is the only league in which this could occur. While the reasons I identify above are not necessarily exhaustive, I believe they provide a good picture of what makes a person a fan of basketball. To the extent that a new league could satisfy what fans are looking for in the game, it could find success. However, what I hope most of all is that today’s meetings help ensure that we never reach the point of seriously contemplating the creation of another league. The NBA is coming off one of its greatest seasons ever. The story lines have never been more intriguing, the star power has never been brighter. It would be a shame to lose the gift of something we love so much.

Robert and Jim and Mike go to Wall Street

As a foreward, let me just say that neither Mike, Jim nor myself made this video to either support and encourage or condemn and mock the actual #occupywallstreet movement. We’re talking about basketball. And trying to be funny. And while we’re trying to be funny (and hopefully succeeding), we’re actually really peeved about the cancellation of NBA games (you can read our formal declaration of grievances here). Alas, being really peeved about the cancellation of NBA games puts us (and probably you, Knickerblogger’s readership) in a rather small minority — the 1%, if you will. But if one starts to ask serious questions about why these games are being cancelled, it inevitably leads to some rather thorny, economic and political quandaries/issues/contradictions. Which I guess means we are, in fact, making a kind of political (if satirical/Swiftian) commentary. Drats. I’ve just tied myself into a pre-amblic Gordian knot. Let’s try again…

We interviewed some of the protesters down on Wall Street about the NBA lockout. What did we learn? Not much (except that attractive young women dig Ronny Turiaf). Here are some of the finer moments.

A bit that didn’t make the cut because it was just too durned long (but was hi-larious) was yours truly getting interviewed on camera about the 9-11 truth movement. Some press types cornered me and asked, “What do you think of the 9-11 truth movement?” and I went into a long-winded (quelle surprise!) diatribe about the fact that we all find conspiracy theories so compelling because they support the illusion/idea/hope that some omnipotent, all-knowing force is in charge of this miasma of chaos and inscrutability we call life. Even if the unseen power that rules us all is evil (like the Bilderberg Group or the Illuminati or any comic book/filmic supervillian), that’s preferable to Einstein being wrong and accepting the idea that God does in fact, “Play dice with the universe.” Anyhoo, I was waxing philosophical/poetic when the cameraman said, “That’s enough. Thanks.” I asked what the interview was for/where I might see it and he calmly said, “Sorry. We won’t use you. We’re looking for 9-11 Truthers.”

So if any of you stumble upon a documentary/Youtube clip stating #OWS is entirely populated by fringe Leftists, feel free to wholeheartedly debunk it with the above anecdote.

One more thing: Jim Cavan and I are not the same height. I was standing on a ledge when we shot the opening, like Tom Cruise does whenever he has to kiss a co-star taller than 5’6″. Side-by-side, Jim literally towers over me. Think Jared Jeffries and Nate Robinson.

Serious kudos to Mike K. for the boffo editing job. Enjoy…




Declaration of the Occupation of New York City obscure NBA blogs. And Twitter. Because we want basketball.

As we gather together in solidarity angry boredom to express a feeling of mass injustice minor inconvenience, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people basketball fanz who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world NBA can know that we are your allies.

As one people gaggle of bloggers, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race professional basketball requires works better with the cooperation of its members; that our system the NBA must protect our rights dunkz, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals bloggers to protect their own rights inane, borderline sociopathic obsession and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government professional basketball derives its just power from the people, but corporations David Stern does not seek consent to extract wealth dunkz from the people andthe Earth fanosphere; and that no true democracy NBA is attainable when the process is determined by economic power.

We come to you at a time when corporations owners, who place profit over people, self-interest over justice tomahawk dunkz, and oppression over equality NBA League Pass, run our governments sports. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known:

They have taken our houses Kobe through an illegal foreclosure a totally legal but still totally dickish process, despite not having theoriginal mortgage opening their accounting books.

They have taken bailouts from taxpayers lots of ticket money from fans with impunity, and continue to give Executives Travis Outlaw and Eddy Curry exorbitant bonuses salaries.

They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation Donald Sterling and James Dolan.

They have poisoned the food supply through negligence neon cheese and various forms of edible cardboard and undermined the farming system beer selection through monopolization promoting Budweiser.

They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless animals foam fingers and $10 beers, and actively hide celebrate these practices.

They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions been dicks.

They have held students fans hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education absurd ticket prices, which is itself a human right totally uncool.

They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay make Euro-flopping and bad haircuts acceptable basketball protocol.

They have influenced the courts refs to achieve the same rights as people give superstars every call, with none of the culpability or responsibility.

They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance deprive me of a Christmas triple-header.

They have sold our privacy as a commodity given the Maloof brothers a professional sports franchise.

They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press fostered a league of stars to the detriment of teams.

They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products call illegal picks endangering lives a Knicks win in pursuit of profit a Celtics win.

They determine economic technical foul policy, despite the catastrophic failures Stephen Jackson ejections their policies have produced and continue to produce.

They have donated paid large sums of money to politicians David Stern who are responsible for regulating them is one smug $#%&%$!@*.

They continue to block alternate forms of energy defense to keep us dependent on oil free throws.

They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s lives or provide relief in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantial profit prevent me from smoking in stadiums.

They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents their books and inactive ingredients Tim Donaghy in pursuit of profit.

They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.

They have accepted private given terrible contracts to murder prisoners even marginal players when presented with serious doubts about their guilt statistics.

They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad TV timeouts.

They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas Cavs fans.

They continue to create weapons of mass destruction NBA Cares commercials in order to receive government contracts  our sympathy.

To the people of the world fans of the NBA:

We, the New York City General Assembly totally bored bloggers and basketball writers occupying Wall “Ball Street” in Liberty Square on the internet or something, urge you to assert your power iPads and Twitter accounts.

Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space fold-out lawn chairs in your living room; create a process to address the problems we face bitch and moan and smoke cigarettes, and generate solutions accessible to everyone screeds that neither the league nor the union will ever read.

To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy dunkz, we offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal a toast or something.

Join us and make your voices heard End the lockout, before we start watching hockey.


Put On For Your City

My whole perspective on the lockout, and the NBA in general, changed today when my friend asked, “Will anyone really care about Kobe’s Denver Citibank Armadillos vs. Lebron’s Akron MetLife Wildcats?” He was referencing Amar’e Stoudemire’s recent suggestion of the players creating their own league with its own season. “No,” I responded, “No one would.” Up until this summer, I always thought the players were the only focus in the NBA. Now, I am realizing the heart of the league lies much deeper.

It dawned on me that real fans, like myself, yearn for the league and the game, not necessarily the stars. Throughout the summer we have all watched or heard of Durant, LeBron, ‘Melo, Wade, and others hoop it up across the country. For an hour or two, these games provide entertainment and discussion, but they are simply a façade of the real deal.  I get the feeling stars think all we want is to see them put on a show – throw down uncontested dunks on one end while playing matador D’ on the other.

Truth is, I don’t have nearly the same attachment to Melo as he shoots in a Miami exhibition as I do when he is wearing a New York jersey shooting against the 76’ers. I don’t check Amare’s stats when he is playing for “Wade’s” team, but after any Knicks game, I scour the box score for hours.  During the lockout, I have become detached from the players and more attached to my team – the Knicks.

Real fans don’t invest their love in the players so much as the city and the franchise. This is why Amare’s proposal of a player-run league does not excite me. Sure, it would be fun, in a way. But, if the stars think we are content with just seeing them in any uniform, they are sorely mistaken.  There are those out there who would LOVE Stoudemire’s idea.  Unfortunately, many of them are similar to the guy sitting next to me at the home opener last year. He wore an Anthony jersey, was decked in Knicks gear from head to toe, but shouted several times “who is number 23?!?”

Real fans love getting behind their team and representing them as best they can. The perfect example is the hatred towards LeBron by Knicks fans (again, including me) just moments after the “decision.” In the days, months, and years leading up to this, we were begging him to come to New York. We didn’t actually care about LeBron – we cared about the Knicks regaining power in the East.

The All-Stars have it wrong.  We are here to watch our team as a whole, from the end of the bench to the starters.  I will have more respect for Carmelo, or any player on the Knicks,  if he fights to bring basketball back to NY, rather than put up 45 against LeBron in an exhibition. We don’t want you to set up charity games. We want you to show the same desperation and urgency that Knicks fans have in starting the regular season. NBA players should stop worrying about playing overseas and, instead, fight for their team back in this country. At the end of the day, we all just want to see our team play and represent our city, no matter what shape or form.  The NBA is not only about the players, and they will be the last ones to realize.

Why the NBPA Is Playing Against a Stacked Deck

I thought now might be a good time to look into why a league that appears to be entering a renaissance is having such a difficult time reaching a labor deal.


Consider the economic reality of the players. The NBA is often called a league of stars, and for marketing purposes it is. However the stars aren’t the only one voting, and when the players vote to ratify a CBA, the minimum-salary player’s vote counts just as much as Carmelo Anthony’s. The average NBA player salary is $5.15 million, but that number is skewed by a few players at the top making considerably more than the average hoopster. To compensate we can look at the median wage, which better represents the general NBA player. The median salary in the NBA is $2.3 million. $2.3 million might sound like a lot, but there are more factors to consider:

1) The Average NBA Career Lasts Five Years: Since most NBA players forego the years wherein they’d most likely be building a “normal” career, their earnings after their NBA careers are likely severely diminished. In other words a normal person would work into their 60s, but a basketball player is lucky to earn money in his 30s, and highly unlikely to still be getting a paycheck in their 40s. Yes, stars can go on to sell sneakers or underwear. And a few will be suited coach or work in broadcasting, but for most players, this is not likely an option. If we look at this median player’s salary spread out over the average worker’s forty years of income, that $2.3 million salary turns into a $287,500/year. That’s great money for most people, but it’s not filthy rich. In essence the average NBA player is more a six-figure salaried employee than millionaire.

2) Missing Games For a Better Deal Is Still a Net-Loss For Current Players: Let’s say you’re halfway through your five year NBA career. If you hold strong, the Player’s Association may finagle an extra 3% in salary, but that’s chump change compared to the 20% of your overall earnings you lose by not playing for a season. Almost without a doubt you are sacrificing income. Maybe it’s for a good cause, but how much is that good cause worth to journeymen NBAers?

3) One Season Constitutes 20% of the Average Player’s Career Earnings: That’s a huge sacrifice. Compare that to a person in an auto-worker union, who even if he strikes for a year only gives up 2.5% of his lifetime income (assuming a forty year career). To put that figure into context, losing a season drops the average yearly income of a player from $287,500 to $230,000.

4) Taxes: Because he makes most of his money in a short period of time, Mr. Median NBA Player will find himself in a higher tax bracket than the person with a longer career but the same lifetime earnings. He will send Uncle Sam up to a million dollars more than his dentist neighbor. Now his real-world salary is down to $200k/year. Again, that’s a good living, but not one on which you should be buying fourteen luxury cars

5) Poor Money-Management: As the article linked above explains, NBA players as a group are bad at managing money. This subject has been well-chronicled, but due to its importance to the current negotiations, it bears repeating. No matter how well the union has tried to prepare its players, many of them (Eddy Curry, take a bow) still live paycheck to paycheck and end up in financial trouble when the checks stop coming.

All these factors combine to put the NBPA at a huge disadvantage in negotiations. It is in a bargaining position that no amount of Dwyane Wade outbursts or Billy Hunter All-Star Game “soliloquies” can overcome. The owners know that the more checks the players miss, the more the union’s stance will soften. Issues like a hard cap and reducing bad contracts are mostly just smokescreen so that the owners can appear as though this lockout is “for the good of the game,” so that they can keep the pressure on the players until they’ve gotten the best deal possible.


I am dubious about the claim that the NBA is losing money (1, 2, 3), but even if it is, the current offer from the players should more than make up for those losses. Moreover, with the renewed interest in the NBA due to the Heat’s big three; our Knicks’ acquisition of two stars; the rising careers of marketable players like Blake Griffin, Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose; and, as Mike Kurylo explained, the increased popularity of basketball among younger people, revenue has nowhere to go but up.

The problem is the owners benefit by making the lockout longer and even canceling games, up until a point. For instance if the players are clinging to an extra 3%, and the owners cancel 15% of the games this season, that means the common NBA player has gained absolutely nothing. (Common player plays 5 years and 3% * 5 = 15%). The biggest stars and players who are likely to play multiple years will gain by such a hold out, but not those on the short end of the spectrum. Hence among the players there isn’t consensus, which weakens their position, since some would take a lesser deal than others.

The owners know this & therefore are operating from a hard stance. (Steve Nash Tweets: “Why are people saying the players are asking for more money?” and “The players are negotiating to take less money & let’s be clear that’s not going to lower ticket prices, it just lines the owners pockets.”) And at this stage the owners are all together on this issue, because their interests are all being met here.

But the owners can only push so far, because the players have one tactic they can use to strengthen their hand: decertify the union. In the NFL labor dispute the players disbanded the union, and after some legal wrangling both sides negotiated a deal in time to save the season. By breaking up the union, the players can sue the NBA using class action lawsuits & challenge everything including the draft, the salary cap, restricted free agency, etc. Obviously this is something that could hurt the owners severely, if they had to openly bid for rookies and free agents without any restrictions. (see: The Dollar Auction for why owners would inevitably pay more than a player’s worth.)

Billy Hunter may not like what decertification suggests about his negotiating abilities. However, the hardline stance of the owners, even after the players have conceded to the owners a higher revenue percentage than that in any other professional sports league, is proof that the owners are trying to rig the game. The only way for the players to get their fair share is if they move the game to a casino where the league isn’t dealing the cards.