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Thursday, September 18, 2014

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.”

21 comments on “MetroFocus (Thirteen)’s Interview With Harvey Araton

  1. Jim Cavan (@JPCavan)

    Pretty flippin’ excited for this one. Ordered my copy late last week, so it should be arriving any day now. Should be a good numbing agent for the next few weeks.

  2. Brian Cronin (@Brian_Cronin)

    Looks like we won’t be having an 82 game season. Lame. Once again, the owner’s negotiation tactics are so annoying. So after multiple weeks about “you have to take 50/50 split,” they opened Friday’s talks with “we want you to take 47 percent.” Clearly, it was intended to get them to get to 50/50 while conceding on system stuff, but it is so obvious that it is basically not even good faith negotiating.

  3. taggart4800

    After all of this I am fascinated to see how the new system shakes out. It will be great to see which GM’s assembled their roster the best in preparation for what they thought was to happen. It will also be interesting to see if an amnesty clause is included. Will the Knicks use it on Billups if at all, got to think its not worth using on Balkman at $2mill.
    If the Blazers use theirs on Roy who will pick him up and will Oden be available. If we could somehow acquire a team of Paul, Roy, Melo, STAT and Oden combined they may have the most visits to the knee specialist of any NBA starting 5 or team for that matter.
    In all seriousness though, what is a reasonable look for the new system?
    $65 mill soft cap with the more punitive lux tax at around $2 on the $?
    Amnesty Clause?
    Significant Rookie contribution clause? May mean Fields is bumped up?
    Will the minimum exception stay?
    Mid-Level looks gone for teams paying lux tax.
    If so as things stand that would leave the knicks with 3mill cap space, possibly around $19 mill if waive Billups?
    Any chance the Amnesty clause would allow you to waive and then re-sign at a lower number? Would we want to because of CP3?

    Very nice to be thinking roster moves again, even if the deal hasn’t officially been reached.

  4. Brian Cronin (@Brian_Cronin)

    Mid-Level looks gone for teams paying lux tax.

    Where did you see that? Did someone write that about the negotiations? I don’t think that will happen. That would be a seismic shift.

  5. Frank

    Howard Beck reporting that the amnesty clause =

    “Amnesty clause: Each team will be permitted to waive one player, with pay — anytime during the life of the C.B.A. — and have his salary be exempt from the cap and the luxury tax. Its use will be limited to players already under contract as of July 1, 2011.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/30/sports/basketball/nba-deal-is-close-but-last-hurdle-is-a-big-one.html?ref=sports

    For NYK fans this will unfortunately likely be known as the 2014-15 Amare rule.

  6. Brian Cronin (@Brian_Cronin)

    Thanks for the link, Frank.

    So yeah, the owners want the mid-level not available for teams over the luxury tax, but that’s understandable. I doubt that they get it. Taking away mid-level and sign and trades for teams over the luxury tax is too much of a game-changer. Pretty much everything else in the discussion seems eminently logical. I especially love the new system for waived players. I’d imagine that Balkman would be waived under that as soon as possible. And yes, Frank, I like that teams don’t have to decide on who to waive right away, as the Knicks really have no one to waive right now, but odds are pretty high that they’ll have someone in a couple of years!

    But again, even while things seem to be pretty logical overall, the owners still come off as ridiculous in certain positions. Beck points out the argument for each side in trying to frame it as though they have made major concessions. Which one sounds more like someone trying to be “fair”?

    “We came down from the 57% we had under the old deal to 52.5%, so we are clearly trying to get a deal done.”

    “We wanted you to go down to 37% but decided to say just 50%, so we are clearly trying to get a deal done.”

    Actually going down (to less than the NHL gets, for crying out loud! And the NHL’s BRI can go up the more revenue the league takes in!) versus making up a ridiculous negotiating position and then moving off their ridiculous initial position?

  7. stratomatic

    Most of you guys are probably too young to have seen that Knicks team. I know in many cases modern athletes are bigger and more atheletic, but in all my years of watching the NBA that may have been the best “team” I have ever seen. There was a total sacrifice of “self” for the greater good and it actually worked. The closest thing I have ever seen to it was Bill Walton’s Trailblazers. When the game is played like that and it’s done well, it changes from a sport/game into something deeper and more meaningful that bonds the players to each other and the players to the fans in a special way.

  8. stratomatic

    I think the bottom line to the lock out is the bottom line.

    In order to justify the existence of a business, an owner has to generate an appropriate risk adjusted return on his invested capital. That return has nothing to do with either warranted or unwarranted appreciation of the business (advocates of the greater fool theory need not apply assuming you should have learned your lesson after the dot com and real estate busts). An adequate return is entirely related to a growing stream of free cash flow that could theoretcially be removed from the business that justifies any potential appreciation.

    If you accept that the NBA is losing money (synergies with related businesess should be excluded), then there are really only a handful of options for the owners.

    1. Cut costs (player salaries and other costs)

    2. Liquidate the businesss and cut your losses (league contraction)

    Given that contracting the league seems to be off the table because neither owners,s players, or the NBA wants it (players would lose jobs under that scenario), then they have to cut costs.

    From what I gather, a 50-50 split of BRI gets the owners to approximately break even. They hope that cost cutting in other areas and revenue growth will slowly put them on track to earn an adequate return on capital several years from now.

    Honestly, for anyone that understands basic business, it’s hard to me to understand how you could possibly be on the player’s side in this.

    Any other business with these operating results would be laying people off, selling off under performing assets, cutting salaries and benefits etc… and most of the employees would just go along because they would understand that the alternative would be for all of them to be out of work.

  9. stratomatic

    Part 2

    I realize it’s hard for fans to feel any sympathy for mega rich owners. But the day of DUMB owners subsidizing the salaries of players for the fun of owning a team and on the hope and even dumber owner would pay even more for the team a few years later are OVER.

    The NBA is joining the real world of business where you look at capital invested, return on invested capital, and team valuations reflect those real world economics. The sooner the players (especially the union leadership that’s living in the delsuional world of the past) figure that out, the faster we can get back to playing basketball.

  10. latke

    Strat, You make some good points. I still wonder though — let’s say there was still a viable alternative to the NBA. Wouldn’t the players be getting much better offers?

    Let’s say the players were willing to miss a season or two… Would the owners eventually crumble and offer more?

    What has changed in the last five years (other than a presumably temporary recession) that has caused the terms of the old deal to be unacceptable?

    It seems to me the owners have all the leverage. If they are good negotiators, then of course they are getting the better deal.

  11. Brian Cronin (@Brian_Cronin)

    If you accept that the NBA is losing money

    I know I don’t. At least not enough that they need a reduction from 57% to 50% just to break even. I think that’s total negotiating BS. I do trust that the economy has been bad enough that some teams are doing worse than others. In that case, revenue sharing (on top of a reduction from 57% to 52%) should fix that, not taking it out of the players’ pockets just because, well, they want to.

    Again, the NBA players are asking for a split that’s smaller than the one that the NHL players are getting! And the NHL players have a chance for their split to get bigger if the league makes more money.

  12. KnickfaninNJ

    It’s not true that the NBA is just a business where the owners have to get a return on their invesrment any more than a Ferrari is just basic transportation. Most or all of the owners bought an NBA team because they wanted to own one. And they all want to own a winning team. Of course they prefer not to lose their shirts, and they are probably all very competitive guys, so they want to win the negotiations too. But normal standards of business should not and do not apply here. If Mark Cuban was solely concerned about making money he would be spending his time on something high tech, not on the Mavericks.

  13. Frank

    This amnesty period, whenever it comes, is going to be crazy. If the WWL can be believed, guys like Mike Miller and Jermaine O’Neal may be cut. I’d be very happy to see those two in NYK unis with grudges against MIA and BOS. Play Turiaf 25 minutes, O’Neal 15 minutes, and Amare 8 min/game at center and we might have something. A small lineup of Billups/TD, Shumpert/Miller/Extra E, Melo, and Amare would run a lot of teams out of the building.

  14. iserp

    Stratomatic, i want to raise a couple of points:

    - Owners don’t buy teams for profit, the buy teams for entertainment purposes. In most of the world, owners lose money. Teams are built to win championship, not to get money.

    - Is NBA more expensive to run than other leagues? why the split is much more favorable for the owners in the NBA than in the NFL?

    - Is that expensive to run a NBA team? Players are the most important expense, and they are fixed at 57% of the revenue, what eats the other 43% (and more if the teams are losing money)? Aside from building an arena, i don’t seee where the money goes. Arena maintenance, security, producing merchandise are that expensive? how many people does a NBA team have under payroll? If they have so many losses, why don’t NBA teams show their books, or at least some kind of summary (this went to security, this to directives, this to training staff, this to medical staff, …)

    What i don’t get is how someone can be on the side of the owners. They are outright greedy.

  15. KnickfaninNJ

    As a follow on to my post, let me add that personally, I would love to own the Knicks (or any other basketball) team for that matter and just break even. I am sure the rest of you feel the same way too.

    So I don’t feel sorry for the owners if they are not making a normal business return on their investment.

  16. nicos

    Look, the Warriors sold for 450m in 2010. Cohen bought them for 119m in 1995, made the playoffs all of once in the intervening 15 years, sold at the height of the recession, and still managed to set a record for price of an NBA franchise. Yes, the league is having trouble finding a buyer for the Hornets who will keep the franchise in NO but you can’t tell me that there aren’t buyers in Seattle or Vegas who’d snatch them up in a heartbeat. I think the issue is the owners want to guarantee that even a poorly run franchise in an unsustainable market like New Orleans can turn a profit and would rather the players bear the burden than agree to some sort of meaningful profit sharing arrangement.

  17. latke

    That’s a good article, Brian. Surprisingly easy to understand, too, considering it’s written by two economists.

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