Introducing The NBA Players Assocation League

Right now the landscape looks bleak for NBA owners, players, and fans. Without a strong positive effort at the negotiating table it’s very possible that the 2012 NBA season could be canceled. And so far it’s hard to find any positive news on a potential deal. In this dreary time, a little creative thinking and the ability to take a few risks by the players could make life better for themselves and the fans. And all they need to do is create their own league.

With nothing else to do, the players have turned their talents to charity games, which lack the feel of true game play. Sometimes it’s fun to see who dunked on who, and how many points player X put up. But in the end the games are meaningless because they are missing one element: competition. If I could use an analogy, charity games is to an NBA game what Star Magazine is to Time. Having the players continue with just exhibition games would be like having a season full of All Star Games. Eventually the novelty would wear off.

So how would I form a player owned league?


The primary thought of creating a player’s league is making a format that would foster competition. Obviously the goal would be to crown a championship team in some sort of elimination process. The easiest way is to run a tournament. However the problem with a tournament is the few number of games an individual team could see. A single elimination tournament would mean that half the league would only play a single game. A double elimination tournament would only be slightly better, but both would have another problem: the inability to attract fans to individual teams. Since a tournament would be hosted in a handful of locales, there would be nothing to tie the basketball fan to a certain team. For instance which team would Knick fans root for: the one with Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Garnett, the one with Amar’e Stoudemire and Chris Paul, or the one with Renaldo Balkman and Dwight Howard? Even if they chose one, what are the odds that they’ll get to see their team live?

Hence a more successful run player league would stage a handful of games at a home location to connect fans with teams. These games could be a regular season or perhaps more aptly named qualifier season. Let’s assume this league has 12 teams split into two divisions (East & West), where each team plays their division-mates twice. That’s a 10 game season, which would give enough data to seed the teams come playoff time. A single elimination tournament where the top 2 teams in each division get byes, and the other 4 do a single elimination game (3vs6, 4vs5) to play-in. Each round increases the number of games in the series. So the first round is a 3 game series, the second round is a 5 game series, and the finals go best of 7 games. This kind of format would give the league a total 60 qualifying games, and another 22-37 tournament games. If they play a conservative 2 games per week, I estimate it would take about 3 months to finish a complete season.


Of course having a competitive league and tournament would be the first step, there would still need to be something to attract fans to the league. Becoming a fan of a sports team usually involves a tight bond that is unbreakable. If tomorrow the Knicks traded their entire team for the Oklahoma Thunder, Knick fans would accept their new players as their own. Hence fandom is often tied to a singular attribute, which in the case of professional sports is the franchise. In this league that tie wouldn’t exist, but it can hook into two things that the fan already relates to. First is the city or region, which most fans live near or have another tie to. So the New York team would likely gain fans from the Tri-State area, ex-patriated New Yorkers, or those with family or friends in New York. The second is a player which might be on their current favorite team.

Therefore it’d be best that each team have a local representative. Take the best players from 12 different teams in the league, and have each one be team captain for player’s new league. Hence the New York team might get Amar’e or Carmelo as their team captain, the Boston team might get Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce, and the Los Angeles team would likely get Pau Gasol (just kidding, I mean Blake Griffin). Team nicknames could be based on the captain, and the New York Melos might be a subtle tip of the hat to the last century when the Cleveland Naps were named after their best player.

Once each team has a captain, the draft would occur. A random order would be set and the captains would chose their team from a list of 250 or so eligible players in a snaked draft format. Each team would have a 15 man roster. Something like this could be televised, albeit on a channel that wouldn’t care about angering the current set of owners or even a pay-per-view event. This would be must-see-tv for NBA fans based on the drama alone. Which players would go too high? Too low? Which player would make the best/worst GM? How many players would seek out or snub fellow teammates? If the players wanted to make it even more juicy, then have the draft order based on strength of captain as seen by their peers. In other words, have the captains rank the other captains, with the lowest selecting first.

Perhaps the captains would be at their computers, much like you would at your office fantasy draft. Maybe 1-2 minutes for the first round, then a nerve racking 30 seconds from therein, with the last 5 rounds by auto-pick. In an hour or so every fan would know their starting 5. Perhaps break every round for commercials and it’s a 2 hour affair to go 10 rounds. What announcer/analyst wouldn’t drool over the prospects of overseeing such an affair?


Here is the most difficult aspect of the undertaking. Someone needs to run the whole shebang and make sure the league has home arenas (current NBA homes will be off-limits), hotels, referees, doctors, accountants, etc. The players will need a management team, or perhaps a handful of management teams to pull it off. Enough coaches could probably be found, especially among the ranks of the retired or those who have turned to the microphone for employment.

Other issues would be television coverage, sponsorship, & finding investors. In lieu of a channel picking them up, the players can attempt to have their league game sponsored on the internet. Maybe work with a powerhouse like Yahoo or Google. Of course failing to get televised would cut into their earnings. Another idea is to sell team names to sponsors, which would also help with initial investment.

Speaking of profits, a quarter to half should be split evenly among all the members of the player union (although since it’s dissolved I’m not sure how that would work) and another percentage should go to charity. Both will help their public image, and giving to their brethren will strengthen their resolve during the lockout. The rest is divided up among the teams, with the better ones making a higher percentage of money, and the players drafted higher also getting a bigger slice.


So what would the outcome of such a series of events? For the fans it would be a new take on and old fling. A Bizzaro-esque world of jumbled players and cities, feeling new and yet familiar at the same time. Most importantly it would be competitive basketball at the highest level which is what the fans yearn for.

For the players it would be a chance to show the fans that they really enjoy playing, and to show the owners that they aren’t beholden to them. Of course if the logistics of running a league become difficult and frustrating then the players might see the owners in a more favorable light.

For the owners this could be a warning call that perhaps there’s a route other than “my way or the highway.” That there are other ways to successfully run a league, and perhaps their role as facilitator is over-valued. Maybe instead of trying to use the players to fix their system, they can institute revenue sharing on their own & treat the players more like partners at the bargaining table.

And for the workers of these events it could mean a little extra dough in their pocket. Perhaps vendors can see employment in the new locales, and maybe some of the gear (t-shirts, hats) will be vogue enough to allow them to survive until the NBA starts up again.

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Mike Kurylo

Mike Kurylo is the founder and editor of His book on the 2012 Knicks, "We’ll Always Have Linsanity," is on sale now. Follow him on twitter (@KnickerBlogger).

33 thoughts to “Introducing The NBA Players Assocation League”

  1. I’ve fantasized about this as well. I like the tourney structure and the short season. My one suggestion for fan involvement would be, rather than having players build teams, have professional coaches describe the team they would try to build — style of play, examples of players, why it would win. Put these spiels on YouTube, then allow fans to vote for these coaches. The top twelve vote-getters get to be coach/GMs and to select their players via the draft. This would get fans invested in their teams even before they had rosters and would make the teams more likely to have chemistry.

    Like half of player salaries should be based on wins to counteract the notion that guys just come to collect paychecks and don’t care about wins.

    Have fans design jerseys/team names and again put them to a vote.

    Play the games in places that are interesting — I.E. places where fans are going to be loud as hell or maybe outside. Without access to premiere NBA arenas, the gate receipts aren’t going to be a big deal anyway.

  2. The positions may not be as dug in as we are being lead to believe. Supposedly the NBA has suggested that it is open to further negotiations no matter who makes the first phone call. I suspect we are partially dealing with egos right now as to who makes the first move. The NBA made a hard line offer it assumed the players would be smart enough to accept, but they didn’t (they will probably never be able to recover what they lost by saying no) and now everyone is painted into a corner.

    One complicating factor is that I saw a review by a law firm that said that 12 NBA teams would lose less money if there is no season than if there is one. So that’s 12 of 30 votes that are probably “no” on the deal that was on the table because it wasn’t tough enough. To get further tweaks you practically have to be unanimous among the remaining 18, which could be tough.

    On a new league, I don’t think it can possibly work. I think once they started crunching the numbers, the players would wind up locking themselves out. lmao

    If a settlement doesn’t occur late this week or early next week in order to have games by Christmas, I think it’s over. I don’t see a very short season being in the cards. If the season is cancelled, more players will go to Europe and hopefully the games will be streamed so we can see some good basketball.

  3. Now we’re talkin!
    I would love to see a global league, run opposite the euro league, where the US has maybe 10 teams playing a smaller regular season with an extended playoffs against big euro cities like Barcelona, Rome, Paris, London, and outward to Moscow, Beijing and places in Canada and Mexico. Maybe a final 4 type bracket.
    Each team would have a primary sponsor: the NYC/G.E. Electrics, the Paris/Lacoste Gators, etc. etc.
    Five-round draft and then they just start signing players.
    Smaller markets (the A-holes ruining this for us) will get minor-league teams, the Milwaukee/Pabst Foam or something. Guys can be promoted or demoted to this league. It will still be entertaining and a nice business but not what the NY/LA type teams will be.
    Someone like Hulu can get the US tv rights? Netflix?
    It would take a ton of work, but they might have the whole year to think about it…

  4. “Smaller markets (the A-holes ruining this for us) will get minor-league teams, the Milwaukee/Pabst Foam or something. ”

    I agree that the smaller markets are a major part of the problem,.

    However, suppose the NBA came to the table and suggested it was going to contract the league by 10-12 teams and would give the players the same BRI (or at least very similar) and allow them to retain as much freedom to move around as they have now. Then perhaps the league could still earn enough money on its invested capital to justify its existence as a business (which is what the current owners want) and everyone would be happy.

    Do you think the union would have signed off on a deal that meant between 150-180 NBA players (voting union members) were going to go on unemployment or get demoted to the minor league and take a huge hit?

    Personally, I think the NBA expanded way too much, but I can’t see reversing course much (if at all) as a feasible option.

  5. #4 Problem is, the NBA makes less money if they contract. They make a ton of money on television sales, which means they need a national market. Go to 12 teams, and they lose half their fans.

    To have a national market, they need to be in places that individually don’t make money. But since the teams are individually owned, the risk nor reward is evenly spread. The McDonalds in French Lick IN doesn’t make as much as the one in Times Square. However if all the other Mickey D’s closed down, I don’t think the Wall Street one would last.

    Hence owners should have a better revenue sharing plan, which they don’t (unless you “trust them” to come up with one this CBA).

  6. Hence owners should have a better revenue sharing plan, which they don’t (unless you “trust them” to come up with one this CBA).

    Exactly. They seem to be trying to avoid doing more by trying to break the players to the poiint where they won”t ever need revenue sharing. That is the wrong way to go about things – with the 7% they got back in BRI plus some additional system restrictions, the teams are already roughly back to break even. Some more revenue sharing and they will have their profitablity guarantee.

  7. Wojo from Yahoo Sports reporting that owners and players met yesterday and are meeting again today. I’d like to think that they’ve come to their senses and will make a deal, but we’ve seen this movie before and it always ends badly.

  8. The goal apparently is to get a deal done to start season on Christmas. For that to happen a deal is going to have to be reached real quick (in the next couple of days), somehow cant see that happening but who knows anymore.

  9. Howard Beck just tweeted that if season somehow starts on Christmas it will be a 66 game season.

  10. This is really sounding good. This is the most optimistic I’ve been in ages.

  11. Marc Stein also tweeted that Stern has been calling owners trying to see if they are willing to allow the full mid-level for tax-paying teams. Really does seem that the only thing standing in the way of a deal is stupid system issues.

  12. Stupid system issues that the owners are arguing in their own propaganda that it doesn’t happen often. Yeah, it is ridiculous that the owners would let these system issues kill a deal. So the fact that they are back at the table sounds like a great sign to me. Come on, people, get this done!

  13. Wake me when they come to a deal. I’m royally tired of hoping/waiting/pining…

    The reason I’m more optimistic now is that it is the fact that this really is a settlement negotiation now – “what can we give you to get you to settle?” Once you ask that question, you simply must be willing to add to your previous deal, right? And since the previous deal was sooooooooo close, I’m optimistic.

    However, the one iffy part is the theory (that some have suggested) that this is all a ruse to get Derek Fisher involved. And once he shows up, say, “See! The union isn’t really dissolved! Good luck trying to argue to a judge that the union really broke up! See you in court, sucker!”

  14. Just in via TKB (to paraphrase a Sam Amick tweet) “unprecedented optimism” from both sides!!!!

  15. I don’t think that accomplished attorneys on the NBPA side would allow/advise Fisher to come to the meeting if they thought that it jeopardized their court case. Got to think they have that pretty will thought through. Boise seems like he knows what he’s doing.

  16. All the writers are tweeting that the people doing the negotiating for both sides today are basically the EXACT SAME PEOPLE who have been doing all the negotiations before.

    My level of optimism is now back down to zero lol

  17. Writers tweeting about how players today were asking for 51% BRI and owners were obviously not accepting and happy about that. Some called it deflating lol

    Not for nothing but if players had agreed to take a 50/50 split before dunno how the hell they can expect to get better than that now. Unfortunately looks like same bullshit as always. The lawyers talked earlier in the week and things started to look good but then today the same exact group of people who havent been able to agree to a deal before were there today so cant be surprised at all if the talks went nowhere today.

  18. OK so the meeting has ended and suddenly there are rumors of “a tentative agreement reached”. WTF is going on lol

  19. OMG it looks like there is a deal!!! Apparently they are preparing a joint press conference!!!!

  20. BigBlueAL: Dont wake up

    Of course, after a moment of joy, all I can think is: “Sh*t, I hope Amar’e’s back’s okay…”

    Pessimism! Wooo!!!!

  21. Robert Silverman: Of course, after a moment of joy, all I can think is: “Sh*t, I hope Amar’e’s back’s okay…”

    Pessimism! Wooo!!!!

    Dont worry, remember we got Melo now :-)

    Honestly I could care less about all that right now, just am pretty damn excited about this news period. I will worry about the roster in a couple of weeks when training camp starts lol

  22. Free agency to start same day, wow what a hectic 2 weeks leading up to Christmas that will be lol

    Hoping they at least keep same Christmas schedule which would mean Knicks open season that day vs Boston at noon.

  23. Time to come out of hibernation.

    Now that the season looks like it’s going to start on Christmas, can they change the schedule so that the Knicks will face Boston, Chicago and Miami 4x each?

  24. Hallelujah! And the terms of the agreement are more or less Knick-friendly….prior to lockout I feared hard cap would stifle our current team’s future….once that went out the window and I heard salary cap would remain steady at $58 Million roughly the first 2 years of new CBA (or at least not falling below that threshold), I figured we were in pretty good shape pending the conclusion of this national nightmare, which has finally arrived!

    rejoice folks!

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